The list seems endless.
- Deoni Jones, age 23. Stabbed to death in Washington, DC.
- Agnes Torres, age 35. Decapitated, burned, and thrown in a ditch in Atlixco, Mexico.
- Anil Aayiramthengu, age 39. Throat slit in Thangassery, India.
- Thapelo Makutle, age 24. Throat slit and partially decapitated in Kuruman, South Africa.
- Barbarita Jiménez Alemán, age 21. Shot to death in Colonia San Martín, Honduras.
- Secil Dilşeker, age 46. Throat slit in Antalya, Turkey.
- Sirena Paola, age 44. Beaten to death in Maicao, Colombia.
- January Marie Lapuz, age 26. Stabbed to death in New Westminster, Canada.
- Rayza Morais Costa, age 18. Bound and shot to death in Belém, Brazil.
- Cassandra Flores Zapata, age 39. Strangled to death and burned in Rouen, France.
November 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, when we remember these names among the hundreds of other transgender people who were murdered in 2012. According to the Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide project, murder took the lives of more than 1,080 transgender people in 56 countries between 2008 and 2012. This number is only the tip of the iceberg, as it includes only the handful of cases that garner media attention.
As the trans scholar and advocate Susan Stryker puts it, many people have difficulty recognizing the humanity of another person if they cannot recognize that person’s gender. As a result, trans people in countries around the world frequently encounter extreme prejudice, harassment, and even murderous violence based simply on who they are.
There have been many different ways throughout history and across cultures of conceptualizing gender and describing the process of negotiating socially determined gender boundaries. Over the last century, the term "transgender" has evolved as a popular umbrella term for people whose gender identity—their internal sense of being a man, a woman, or another gender—or gender expression is different from that typically associated with their birth sex. Some people claim a trans identity, while others are identified as trans on the basis of social definitions of masculine and feminine.
Trans people, like any group of people, come from a wide range of backgrounds. They live in cities and rural areas; are young, elderly, and middle-aged; began to live as their true gender when they were children, young adults, or much later in life; and live in families of all varieties. Trans people, and the communities they live in, are diverse in terms of factors such as race, income, and sexual orientation.
While violence can affect trans people from any background, its patterns are anything but random. The overwhelming majority of the lost lives that we honor on the Transgender Day of Remembrance are transgender women of color. Some were immigrants. Many struggled to make a living through sex work and were attacked by clients and police alike. Most were poor. In life and in death, their names and histories hover on the edge of invisibility in societies that accorded them few safe places to call their own.
This invisibility, like the brutality of the violence that claims so many trans people, is a reflection of the pervasive poverty, sexism, and other forms of systematic exclusion that circumscribe trans lives. Transgender people routinely confront institutionalized discrimination in areas of everyday life such as health care, housing, employment, education, and legal recognition in their true gender.
Anti-trans discrimination in health care is a particularly cruel reality, since many trans people need transition-related medical services to fully embody their true selves. And even while seeking the same basic health care that anyone might need to fix a broken bone or treat the flu, trans people frequently encounter biased and inadequate treatment from health care providers and denials of financial support from national health systems and health insurance programs.
The consequences of discrimination in health care are deadly. Transgender people are not only disproportionately likely to be victims of violence: They are also more likely to contract HIV, to go without preventive care that can catch diseases like cancer early, and to attempt suicide. In a recent study of more than 6,400 transgender people in the United States, for example, 41 percent of trans people reported attempting suicide—a rate 25 times higher than the general population.
Across the world, trans people are being excluded from jobs, turned away by doctors, funneled into prisons, and left to die by the side of the road. They are not slipping through the cracks: Indifference, hatred, and violence are actively forcing them down through the gaps in our social safety nets, our health care systems, and the legal systems of citizenship by which our societies determine whose lives matter.
The thousands of trans people whom we remember this November 20 must rely on the living to seek their justice. Fortunately, trans activists and their allies in countries across the globe are fighting to end the violence and invisibility that erase trans lives and advocating for policies that respect gender diversity and the full human rights of trans people.
The report Transforming Health: International Rights-Based Advocacy for Trans Health, published by the Open Society Foundations, provides snapshots of 16 trans health and rights initiatives from 9 countries and the World Health Organization. The report makes recommendations across fields such as health care, data collection, and government identity document policies that we hope can help build a world in which there are no new names to read out at the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Until then, we must not only work for justice here and now—we must pause this November 20 and remember our dead.
Deoni, Agnes, Anil, we remember you. Thapelo, Barbarita, Secil, we remember you. Sirena, January, Rayza, Cassandra, and so many others—you will remain forever in our hearts.