Transgender Day of Remembrance: Recognize. Reflect. Act.

Today is no ordinary day.

Sixteen years ago, transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith dared to make noise with her silence. Sparked by the murders of Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickette, two transgender women of color, Smith gathered a small group of friends in the Castro district of San Francisco to honor all of the victims of anti-transgender violence. This night marked the birth of International Transgender Day of Remembrance, which we now recognize annually on November 20th.

Today is not meant for celebration or pride; it is a day of solemnity and reflection. To paraphrase Smith, today is a day we mourn, a day we remember those we lost, and a day we consider that we live in an uncertain, violent world.

According to the 2014 Hate Violence Report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects (NCAVP), over half LGBTQ homicides reported were transgender women, and half were transgender women of color.

Let’s pause. Take a moment to think, to reflect, to recognize and honor the lives lost in the name of fear, hatred, and unequivocal anti-transgender bias.

It is human nature to believe that none of this could happen to us. We believe that our family will stay safe and our friends will be protected. We believe that the students we work with feel secure and know that we care for them. These beliefs are part of the problem.

Our schools are not safe for transgender students. The Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network’s (GLSEN) 2013 National School Climate Survey reports that in the past year:

• 37% of LGBT students felt unsafe at school because of their gender expression,

• 22% were physically harassed; 11% were physically assaulted, and

• 61% of students who reported an incident said that school staff did nothing in response.

Today is a day to admit to ourselves that any one of our transgender friends could be next. We have to do more than believe. We have to change the way we think. We have to take responsibility. We have to take action.

Transgender Day of Remembrance challenges us to embark on a journey of allyhood – to embrace the marathon of education and advocacy rather than the one-day sprint of recognition.

If you’re Barney Stinson, you can “just run” a marathon. If you’re anyone else, you spend anywhere between 3 months and 33 years preparing for the event. Being a trans* ally requires similar training – a dedication to the process of becoming an ally.

It begins with education: discovering what is particularly important within the transgender community and learning how to talk about those issues. Using inclusive language is crucial; to do so, you’ll need to learn some key terminology. These three definitions will get you started:

Gender Identity: one’s internal sense of one’s gender. One may identify as a man, a woman, both, neither, or anywhere between. To sum it up: all gender is fluid.

Transgender: an umbrella term for people whose gender identity or expression differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. You’ll often see this word abbreviated to trans, or trans*, where the star/asterisk represents the wide variety of identities that fall within the larger scope of the term transgender.

Transition: the deeply personal, complex process of altering one’s birth sex and/or gender. Allies should always be ready with resources and support.

Here are five things you can do today to support trans* individuals:

  1. Ask what pronouns you should use and use those pronouns. Many people are intimidated by this question; they make assumptions and hope they’re right. Allies know the importance of validating pronouns.
  2. Ask permission to ask questions: We all have the same right to privacy, so ask if you can talk through some of their personal stories before assuming that you can.
  3. Be aware of your settings and respect privacy: An individual may be out to some people and not others. Ask the person what name and pronouns they would like you to use in different settings: if it’s just the two of you, if you’re talking to their professors/colleagues, if you see them on campus/in public, etc.
  4. Be sensitive and patient. You may hear a person’s whole story all at once or in small pieces; they may make a decision and run with it, or take very small steps. Respect their process.
  5. Do not make assumptions about a person’s intentions. Every individual is different, and every path is a series of very personal, well thought out decisions. Be supportive of every individual’s development.

As your trans* ally confidence grows, challenge yourself to think bigger. There will always be individuals who need our support on a personal level, and there will always be a need for louder advocates to get the attention of the larger community. Look for things you can do:

On your campus: Start a Safe Zone program to promote education and advocacy for students who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and/or queer. Ask about gender-inclusive policies at the registrar, student health services, office of residence life, and student activities. Visit the Campus Pride Trans Policy Clearinghouse to learn more about being a trans* ally on your campus.

On your social networks: Post relevant articles (like the one you’re reading now, for instance) on your social media networks to activate your friends and family. Pin infographics, tweet important facts and statistics, snap pictures of examples of inclusive (and non-inclusive) behaviors. Use your social media influence for good!

In your community: Review the policies and laws related to LGBTQ individuals. Call and write your local legislator to make your voice heard.

Reading this post was a really good start, friends. Whatever you do today, don’t let it be the last step of your journey. Transgender Day of Remembrance is meant to deliberately disrupt our daily routine, to make us stop and recall those we have lost in an effort to push us forward. Read the list of transgender people killed in 2015. Allow yourself time to feel sadness and hurt, then embrace the anger and frustration in knowing these deaths were caused by ignorance, fear, and hatred. It’s up to us to eliminate the need for the 2016 list. Together we can change the future.


Ahmed, O. and Jindasurat, C. (2015). Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and HIV-Affected Hate Violence in 2014. New York: New York City Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, Inc.

Kosciw, J. G., Greytak, E. A., Palmer, N. A., & Boesen, M. J. (2014). The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. New York: GLSEN.

About the Author:
By day, Courtney Drew (who goes by Drew) works with the programs for young leaders at Rotary International, a non-profit organization focused on joining leaders to exchange ideas and make the world a better place. Her background is in student development and education; she earned her MA in Liberal Studies from Stony Brook University and her BA in History and Secondary Education from St. Norbert College. Drew’s superpowers include writing, speaking, and training on topics she cares most about: LGBTQ advocacy, leadership development, and inclusivity. She adores her partner, loves cats and live music, and sometimes pretends to like running. Connect with Drew to follow all of her fun adventures. All views and opinions presented in her posts and presentations are her own.

Courtney Drew

Rotary International