Keeping the names of those killed due to anti-trans hate takes a tollTrans Progressive Thursday, November 12th, 2015
Commentary: Trans Progressive
Every Nov. 20, here in San Diego we memorialize those people who’ve been killed due to anti-transgender hate. The day we do this is called the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, often referred to by the acronym TDOR.
Originally, the list of the dead was Americentric as Gwen Smith, who is credited with beginning that day of memorial and the starting of the list of the transgender dead, began by combing newspaper archives across the U.S. for murdered transgender people. Within a few years, people began finding murders of transgender people in other countries, as well as people who were killed for gender nonconformity – especially in English language news publications. The list began to be international.
Then, transgender people in other nations began holding TDORs, and began submitting names from their nations to the list Gwen started.
Maintaining the list takes an emotional toll; however, and after a few years of maintaining the original, official list Gwen passed the maintaining of the list to Ethan St. Pierre, who assisted Gwen with the list. Not only is Ethan a trans man, but he has a transgender aunt on the list. For him, maintaining the list had immense, personal importance.
Ethan too felt that emotional toll after a number of years maintaining the list, and four years ago he passed the maintenance of the list to Marti Abernathey, who was at that point assisting Ethan with the list. The official list is currently maintained on TDOR.info
“People would ask me ‘How do you decide what goes in and what doesn’t?’ Part of it definitely is, you know, because of the brutality,” Marti said in an LGBT Weekly interview with me. “Part of it is because the crimes are so horrific.”
“That’s just part of it, but it’s a component. It’s not something that’s easy to do,” she added referring to maintaining the list.
I asked Marti how she could maintain the list. “I’ve been conditioned to do this in a way. I’ve worked in healthcare for going on a quarter century, and there’s a similarity between the trauma and finding ways to cope with it that aren’t destructive.”
TDORs, as time went on, began being held in countries outside of the United States. And, with those names came stories that weren’t in English, and weren’t necessarily in keeping with the original framework of what names were to be recorded.
And as time has gone on, a number of trans people have wanted to expand the scope of the list.
“I kind of try to stick to the framework that Gwen and Ethan followed,” Marti said. “People who record names will include domestic violence and suicides, and generally we don’t include either. I feel, let me put it to you this way, I see both sides in inclusion and not inclusion, but when I think of why the list was started and why it’s needed today, it’s still to me … there’s a difference between someone who takes their own life because of discrimination and someone who was simply murdered because they were living their life and their lives were taken.
“I frequently get emails from people who say ‘This person should be on the list,’ and generally what I’ll say is ‘If that’s what you think, this is just a list. You can add to it or subtract to your event as you see fit.’ I’m just trying to get through [maintaining the list] in the framework of the original intent.
“When this started, you have to think about the people who were being murdered – Rita Hester and Channel Picket. These were people who were murdered and no one cared. I think you can go to the Web site, and I believe you can see Gwen saying she just wanted somebody to remember them.”
In other words, both kinds of deaths are significant. Which deaths of those killed by anti-transgender hate and violence we memorialize Nov. 20 each year locally is subject to local discussion.
Marti wants to pass the list to a group of people to maintain it. “People think it’s some organization maintaining the list, but right now it’s just me.
“This year has been really busy. Next year my hope is to get The TransAdvocate and TDOR incorporated. I have some ideas about TDOR – my goal for this is for this to be my last year of doing the name collection. That would be my hope and that we could find of a team of … well, a majority [of the names on the list] are people of color. And, everyone who’s maintained the list so far has been Caucasian. But that may be a hard dream to make happen.
“To be honest with you,” Marti added, “I’ll let you in on a secret. Nobody wants to do this. I’ve put out calls multiple times asking people for help, but … I don’t blame them.”
Keeping the names of those killed due to anti-transgender hate takes a toll.
Personally, I used to archive news for transgendernews, but I had to stop after being one who had to forward names of the dead to the TDOR list. I used to participate in organizing the TDOR memorial events in San Diego, but it eventually became too hard to do year after year. It takes a toll.
I can only hope Marti finds a group of people, incorporated under the TransAdvocate/ TDOR collaboration, to maintain the list. I hope too it will include people of color, and I hope the people will rotate through so that none will become too overwhelmed with the burdens of maintaining the list.
But the transgender community needs to know that the list of the dead we read each year isn’t maintained by robots, or even a group of trans people. The official list of the dead is maintained by just one woman. That’s an awful lot of burden for just one woman to carry for the entire trans community.
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