Sunday, 17 November 2019

Transgender Day of remembrance: 20 years has anything changed?

Transgender Day of remembrance: 20 years has anything changed?

Next Wednesday the Gender Centre will be memorialising the 20th Transgender Day of Remembrance in Harmony Park, Surry Hills. We’ve been hosting this event since it first began in 1999. Over the years the TGD community has changed and grown, but somethings have remained the same.


Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) was established in San Francisco in late 1999 by a trans community activist named Gwendolyn Ann Smith. Gwendolyn had noticed a disturbing trend, that transgenderand gender diverse people (TGD), and in particular TGD women of colour were being murdered and that those deaths were being forgotten, even by their own communities. A year before a trans woman by the name of Rita Hester had been brutally murdered in her apartment in Boston, and the response of the media and police had been very poor. Reporting on Rita’s death had—instead of being sympathetic and even respectful—involved some of the worst stereotypes about trans women and women of colour. Rita’s death was also linked to the death of Chanelle Pickett a transwoman who had been murdered in 1995 and whose killer had stood trial for the lesser charge of assault and battery. Her killer had been given only two and a half years jail. Gwendolyn Ann Smith was seeing that despite the outrage of the community, Rite Hester was being forgotten and Chanelle Pickett had already slipped from people’s minds. The date—20th of November—is both the anniversary of Rita’s murder from November 1998 and also the four year anniversary of the murder of Chanelle Picket on 20 November 1995.

Since Rita’s murder in 1999 the community has continued to add more names to the list of those who have been killed. In 2009 a European TGD organisation called Transgender Europe(TGEU) started to keep count of the number of violent deaths around the world and since then we have had a more regular tally. This record, the international murder monitor continues to paint a dire picture of the lives of TGD people and in particular transwomen of colour. This year the murder monitor counted 331 new violent deaths between November 2018 and 30 September 2019 bringing the international murder count for the last decade to 3313. 

By far the largest number of killings continues to happen in Central and south America but also represents a decrease in overall numbers from 2018. This is not necessarily because there have been less killings, but rather is a reflection of the challenges of getting an accurate count. 


Most of the violent deaths that have occurred in Australia, England, New Zealand and Canada have been trans women of colour, most likely migrants who are being killed in instances of intimate partner violence but remain relatively low for each country despite a large disparity between the countries populations. For example, New Zealand and Australia have reported two TGD killings over the last decade and the UK four. The populations of these countries; NZ 4.7 million, AUS 24.6 and the UK 66.4 while relatively similar in culture—all are commonwealth countries— have rates of killing both extremely low and not correlated to their respective population sizes. If they were you would expect to see the lowest number of recorded killings in New Zealand and the highest in the UK. Canada—another commonwealth country—has reported  the highest number of killings, with five though its population is in the middle of the field at 37.5 million.


The numbers in Australia are also problematic. 


This year a Filipina woman named Mhelody Polan Bruno was killed in Wagga Wagga. Her death represents only the second violent death to be recorded in Australia in the last twenty years. Prior to her killing the only other death occurred in 2014 in Brisbane. Before that nothing despite the lived experience of the TGD community. One of the main problem with the international murder count is that there continues to be no reliable way to capture transgender killings internationally and in Australia. Accounting for the TGD dead is actually a project of counting one missing community member, one story at a time. This I think is the core idea behind the first TDoR and why it started in the first place: to make sure that despite a lack of interest from the media and the often vague and ambiguous recording of TGD deaths in Australia we still must find a way to honour our missing community members.