LGBT+

Remembering Rita Hester

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Members of the Cardiff university trans* community have come to commemorate TDoR, or Trans*gender Day of Remembrance. Here is an anonymous piece encouraging the wider community to remember Rita Hestert

In 1998, an African American trans*woman named Rita Hester was murdered at her home in Boston. Hester was a popular figure in the local community, and her brutal stabbing by an unidentified man prompted a huge outpouring of grief; that December, a candlelit vigil and a march were organised in her memory in her neighbourhood of Allston. She was far from the first person in the US to die as a result of trans*phobic violence and barely a week went by without news of another victim, but something about this particular tragedy had moved the hearts of trans*gender and cisgender people alike.

 
This was not to be the limit of Hester’s impact on the trans* rights movement. The next year, around the anniversary of her death, activists in San Francisco organised another memorial event dedicated to everyone who had lost their lives in trans*phobic attacks during the intervening year. This was the origin of the Trans*gender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). An annual opportunity to raise awareness of anti-trans* hate crime while honouring its victims, TDoR is observed around the world on November 20th, typically with evening vigils at which the names of the dead are read aloud by volunteers. The list, which is available online, is chilling in both its content and its sheer length.

 
More than a decade after Rita Hester’s death, other trans* women of colour still make up a large proportion those to be remembered, and like her, many of the victims are reported to be sex workers. These sections of the trans* community are most vulnerable to the rampant, almost casual violence that leaves so many injured or dead each year. Trans*women, and other gender variant people who were designated male at birth, are targeted most frequently for a variety of reasons. They often find it difficult to ‘pass,’ i.e. to blend in as women without drawing attention for ‘looking trans*’. Trans*women are also more prevalent in the public consciousness than trans* men, with the former finding themselves the butt of endless mockery in mainstream media while the latter tend to go ignored. However trans*men, and other gender variant people who were designated female at birth, still end up on the receiving end of trans*phobic violence, albeit in smaller numbers. This year’s remembrance list includes Evon Young, a rapper from Milwaukee whose body was dumped in a skip by his killers.

 
TDoR exists not only as a tribute to the dead of this and previous years, but also to call attention to the attitudes that killed them. The individual murderers in each of these cases share responsibility with a wider culture of ignorance and prejudice against trans* people. The mindset of a comedian who invites audiences to laugh at the stereotype of a trans* sex worker with facial hair or a deep voice is not comparable to that of a client who beats and kills her, but it is easy to see how one dehumanising act prepares the ground for the other.

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