Haste Makes Waste

Transgender Day of Remembrance

20 November 2020

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR), and the capstone of Transgender Awareness Week. Many of our peers here at WillowTree identify as transgender, so the Pride ERG worked really hard to assemble these resources for you all. In this article, we’ll talk about why we observe TDoR, about what it means to be transgender, the issues faced by the trans community today, and how you can support your transgender friends and loved ones.

Please be excellent to each other!

What Is Transgender Day of Remembrance?

TDoR is an international vigil which honors victims of anti-transgender violence. It is an opportunity to pay respect to the fallen, support the trans community, and promote equity and visibility.

It was founded on November 20th, 1999 in Allston, Massachusetts, to honor the late Rita Hester. Rita had been tragically murdered the year prior, and when the story was picked up by local newspaper, The Herald, her identity was systematically denied and misrepresented. Rita was referred to by the wrong pronouns, and incorrectly accused of being a “transvestite” with a “double life”.

Even after correction by the public, The Herald was resistant to issuing corrections and published followup stories which continued to misgender Rita. Further, many of those assumptions could be found in the original police report, which demonstrates just how deeply rooted lack of understanding and intolerance for transgender people is in society.

TDoR was later founded by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in Rita’s memory. You can find more information on the individuals we are memorializing on this day on her website, which is updated annually.

What Does It Mean to Be Transgender?

According to a 2015 survey by GLAAD, only 16% of Americans report personally knowing someone who is transgender. Media representation, which informs the bulk of America’s understanding of transgender culture, is rarely sympathetic. So, the first step to being an ally is to learn and make connections!

The transgender experience is incredibly diverse, and includes a huge range of people who might be identified as gender-nonconforming. A nonbinary person or genderqueer individual may or may not identify themselves as transgender, for example.

Speaking broadly, transgender people have a gender identity or gender expression which differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. For some transgender people, the dissonance between one’s gender identity and sex assigned at birth can create physical and psychological distress. That sensation of discomfort is called gender dysphoria, and it can express differently in different people. Some people experience the opposite, gender euphoria, the joy of expressing oneself authentically which they may not have known they were missing. In fact, not every transgender person necessarily experiences gender dysphoria or euphoria at all, and it can occur at any stage in life.

Some, but not all, transgender people might pursue transition, the process of changing one’s gender expression to better reflect their self-concept. This could involve changes in appearance or presentation, changing names or pronouns, medical treatments such as hormone replacement therapy or surgery, or any other adjustments that reduce distress or increase joy. :)

A transgender person does not have to complete any particular step. They are done when they decide that they are done. Every journey is bespoke, and highly personal. The only important measure is, do you feel like your authentic self?

If you’re interested in what it feels like to be transgender or experience gender dysphoria, a great start would be checking out art made by the queer community. If you’d like to learn more about being an effective ally, please take a look at these frequently asked questions. And if this topic has sparked something in you, you might also consider exploring some of these resources with a qualified therapist. But at the end of the day, the only one who can decide is you! :)

What Issues Are the Trans Community Facing?

Speaking broadly, transgender people are among the most vulnerable groups in America; facing unique challenges and widespread discrimination which only intensifies for trans people of color. What follows is the briefest of overviews of human rights issues faced by the transgender community today; for a comprehensive look at specific issues, consider starting here.

Today, there is no explicit federal protection for individuals based on gender identity or presentation. In June of this year, the Supreme Court upheld that being transgender could be considered related enough to qualify for some protections that apply to one’s sexuality, which was a significant victory, but is subject to future interpretation. At the state level, only 22 outright prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity.

Transgender people are significantly less likely to have a college education, and significantly more likely to be unemployed or homeless, than a cisgender individual. According to a 2015 survey from the National Center for Transgender Equality, trans folks are 3x more likely to be unemployed than the average person, with transgender people of color being 4x more likely. In the year prior to the survey alone, 30% reported being fired, denied a promotion, or experiencing some other form of mistreatment in the workplace as a result of their identity, and nearly 30% of participants reported being homeless at some point in their lives.

The heightened odds of poverty and homelessness make transgender people physically more vulnerable than the average person. In a 2019 report from the Human Rights Campaign, at least 22 trans and gender-nonconforming people were killed within that year. Because many people in this group are otherwise disenfranchised or off the grid, the number of unreported murders is likely to be quite higher. Of the people who lost their lives in 2019, a staggering 92% were black transgender women, and 68% of those people lived in the southern US. About half of transgender people surveyed have been victims of physical or sexual violence due to their identities.

The discrimination faced by transgender people, particularly transgender youth, has severe consequences for their physical and mental health. 8% of transgender people surveyed reported being kicked out of their home by family upon coming out as transgender. 39% of respondents reported severe psychological distress in the month prior to the survey, and the rate of attempted suicide among transgender respondents is nine times the national average (40% vs 4.6%). Even the healthcare system provides less relief to transgender patients suffering from these issues; one-third (33%) of those who saw a health care provider had at least one negative experience related to being transgender, such as being verbally harassed or refused treatment because of their gender identity.

It is clear we have a lot of work to do to create a safe and equitable environment for our transgender loved ones. So next, we’ll talk about some of the things you can do to support them!

What Can I Do?

Normally, we’d advocate joining a vigil to honor members of the community who have been lost to anti-transgender violence. The pandemic makes that inadvisable, so here are some things you can do instead.

Today, consider taking some steps to support the transgender community year-round: further your education, give direct support, or commit to standing up for the transgender people in your life and community.

Some actionable things you can do:

  • Take time to talk pronouns! Include your pronouns in your Slack name, email signature, or at the start of your presentations. This normalizes declaring pronouns and will help people feel more comfortable stating theirs as well.

  • Use gender neutral languages and expectations. There are many chances to switch out gendered terms for gender-neutral terms. When you start looking for them, you’ll be surprised. Help teach the people in your life (especially kids!) to accept different folks and to always be mindful of the words that we choose to describe people!

  • Advocate for gender neutral facilities and inviting trans folks to safe spaces that match their gender identity. Consider the spaces you inhabit–are there places for the transgender community to feel safe? This can look like single-stall restrooms, gender-neutral relaxation rooms, not pitting ‘the girls’ against ‘the boys’ in competitions, and removing unnecessary gendering from activities.

  • Stand up for people. By saying something when there’s bigotry in the room or a microaggression, you are saying that you are someone who cares about the humanity of your community. By saying something, you are taking the mental load off of a transgender person and helping them defend their humanity.

  • Embrace change. It can be really easy to fall back into old patterns because they are comfortable. When you receive feedback that you’ve had a misstep, take the time to understand why the thing you said was hurtful or inaccurate. It’s okay to make mistakes! It’s not okay to be willfully ignorant or hurtful.

  • Teach your children to respect everyone, across the gender spectrum. Children are a product of their environment. If they are surrounded by love and acceptance, this is what they will show. You can help keep the next generation of transgender kids safe!

  • Volunteer, donate, and advocate for LGBT inclusive hiring practices! This is a great way to meet the LGBT community, hear about their experiences, and make a difference. The following locales are geared towards folks in our WillowTree offices, but there are likely more in your area!
  • Learn more about the transgender community! In the next section, we’ll share media with positive representations of transgender characters. In the meantime, here’s an excellent infographic from the ACLU, about becoming an effective ally!

Where Can I Find Healthy Representations In Media?

Glad you asked! Media and public representation is crucial because it can shape how transgender individuals (and underrepresented groups in general) are viewed by society and how they view themselves. Here’s some great movies, shows, books, and games:

  • Pose: Pose is a drama spotlighting the legends, icons and ferocious house mothers of New York’s underground ball culture, a movement that first gained notice in the 1980s.

  • Disclosure: DISCLOSURE is an unprecedented, eye-opening look at transgender depictions in film and television, revealing how Hollywood simultaneously reflects and manufactures our deepest anxieties about gender.

  • Dreadnaught: A novel by a transgender novelist; the sequel is even better. “Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.”

  • Lumberjanes: This is the series that broke me out of my shell. It’s really important to me! “At Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types, things are not what they seem. Three-eyed foxes. Secret caves. Anagrams…”“

  • She-Ra, Steven Universe and Danger & Eggs feature non-binary characters who use they/them pronouns.

  • Celeste is a video game about resilience from the perspective of a trans woman, written and developed by a transgender artist.

  • This comic speaking to a trans woman’s younger self - fair warning I sobbed reading it. See also, this one!

  • HBO’s latest documentary Transhood.

And here’s some transgender and non-binary folks who are doing great things in the world:

  • Sarah McBride of Delaware is the country’s first openly transgender senator!

  • Joshua Query, a legislator in New Hampshire’s statehouse, came out as gender-nonconforming during their first term. Query was re-elected to the statehouse as New Hampshire’s first genderqueer representative.

  • Taylor Small became the first transgender person elected to the state Legislature in Vermont.

  • Mauree Turner, who is nonbinary, Black and Muslim, won a seat in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, becoming the first nonbinary person elected to any state’s legislature.

  • Stephanie Byers won a seat in the Kansas House of Representatives, becoming the first transgender woman of color elected to any state legislature in the U.S.

  • There are 39 transgender or genderqueer elected officials as of the last US election!

  • Chase Strangio is a staff attorney with the ACLU, who won a landmark SCOTUS case this year protecting transgender employment rights.

  • Bryce J. Celotto (he/him) - transmasculine army veteran advocating for inclusive transgender military service and LGBTQ representation in class rooms and government policies.

  • Blu del Barrio plays Adria: the first explicitly non-binary character in the Star Trek universe on Star Trek Discovery. The actor is non-binary themselves and uses they/them pronouns.

  • Ian Alexander plays Gray on Star Trek Discovery, the first explicitly transgender charecter in the Star Trek universe. Ian came out as transgender in 2014, uses he/him pronouns and they/them pronouns, and identifies as transmasculine, non-binary, and pansexual.

  • Munroe Bergdorf - Trans Activist and Model in the UK and first Trans Model to front a campaign in the UK before being fired for her public condemnation of white supremacy. Bergdorf was later rehired and now advocates for transgender rights in this UK and abroad.

  • Raquel Willis - former executive editor of Out magazine where she created the Trans Obituaries Project to highlight violence against trans women of color. She currently leads Black Trans Circle which develops leadership skills of black trans women in the South and Midwest.

  • Laverne Cox is a transgender actress and LGBTQ+ activist who rose to fame following her role as Sophia Burset on Orange in the New Black in 2013. She was the first openly trans person to be nominated for a prime-time Emmy in an acting category.

  • Your WillowTree coworkers, who are striving to make the world and technology better and safer for all humans.

Thank you for joining us, and sharing this space with our family today. 🏳‍🌈

I hope something you learned has inspired you to take action. It’s a lot of information, for sure, but don’t worry, I will repost it until the heat death of the universe.

This article was originally shared internally at WillowTree, and was made possible by the combined research of many excellent people, including: Fynn, Madeleine, Jenny, Ralph, Cyan, Spud, Teresa, Christine, and a handful of mysterious benefactors from the WillowTree Pride ERG. Their input was invaluable. Special thanks to the Trees of Color ERG’s Juneteenth production, from whom we borrowed this structure.

May you ever be a force for good, who loves and cherishes others for what makes them unique.

Have a wonderful weekend! ❤

Obligatory disclaimer: the views expressed here are our own, and do not represent WillowTree or its partners.