On Sunday, shortly after dark, a small crowd will gather in the chill of Monument Square for the Portland version of a vigil happening all over the world: the 13th annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Several speakers — some trans, some allied — will address the issues of transphobia and violence against gender-nonconforming people. The names of the trans people murdered around the world in the past year will be read, candles will be lit, and then there will be a short march to Hope.Gate.Way on High Street for a community potluck.
The roots of the TDOR lie close to Maine; the movement arose in the wake of the November 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a trans woman in Allston, Massachusetts. This year well over a hundred planned gatherings are listed at the TDOR's official website, transgenderdor.org — a couple of dozen overseas, including in Greece, Italy, India, Turkey, and New Zealand, and the rest spread across the US.
Of the 20 trans murder cases documented at the website for this past year, eight happened in the US, six in Honduras, three in Turkey, and one each in Italy, Indonesia, and Mexico. Some of the details of these deaths are horrific: 25-year-old Marcel Cameo Tye, in Arkansas, was shot in the head and dragged behind a car. Shelley Hilliard, 19, in Michigan, was murdered, decapitated, dismembered, and burned. Ramazan Çetin, a 24-year-old in Turkey, was shot in front of witnesses by her brother as she lay in a hospital bed. He told the hospital staff he had done it because she was trans, stating, "I cleansed my honor."
Twenty well-documented cases — but what of the nameless victims, the victims who were never found, and the victims of crimes in which the transgender key to the puzzle was ignored, or downplayed, or overlooked? What of the cases not well-enough documented to make the site? It has proven hard to count trans people, although estimates keep rising, and it seems similarly hard to pin down the number of people who have died because they were trans. The activist community website care2.com estimates the trans murder rate at one every two days worldwide; many of the victims who appear on their lists but not at transgenderdor.org were trans sex workers in Central and South America.
Another sad fact is that almost all the murder victims are trans women, including all of this year's 20 confirmed cases. This is not to say trans men are safe — Brandon Teena, subject of the film Boys Don't Cry, is one notorious example of a murdered trans man — but it is trans women, especially trans women of color, who bear the brunt of the world's transphobic rage.
The Portland TDOR is being coordinated by Maine Trans Net, in conjunction with the USM Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity, and the Trans Youth Equality Foundation. The vigil begins at 6 pm. All are welcome to attend and help "memorialize those who were killed due to anti-transgender hatred or prejudice and to stand in solidarity for the right of all people to freely express their gender identity without fear of violence."