In 1998 trans woman Rita Hester was killed in New England, in the Northeastern corner of the United States and a candle-lit vigil was held. The following year in San Francisco in the Southwestern corner a candle-lit vigil became the launch-pad for the International Transgender Day of Rembrance (TDOR) that recalls those murdered in the previous year. This was based around the Remembering Our Dead website of activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith, who continues to claim ownership of the day. It has spread around the world and led to annual commemorations that often involve reading out a list of names of those believed to have died as a result of anti-transgender violence. Other websites list names of the murdered, but Smith distinguishes her list as not only official, but refusing to list someone where there is media corroboration of the death being linked to anti-transgender sentiment. A different viewpoint is taken by the Trans Murder Monitoring Project that records any murder where the victim happens to be transgender that happens to be noted on the internet.
Various statistical problems could be noted about these reports of numbers, the key one of which is that the numbers are far too low, on the basis that the victims are heavily weighted towards Central and South America, and it is unlikely that the numbers elsewhere are quite as low as stated. The biggest problem, however, is the somewhat naive way in which these figures are interpreted. For example the Trans Murder Monitoring Project issued a press release for TDOR 2012 that included an expression of concern about the relatively high number of murders of those who happened to be transgender in such a small country as Guatemala. There where just 5 murders there in what is considered one of the murder capitals of the world. In comparison in 2014 there were 2188 murders in Guatemala City alone. Yet the monitoring project merely noted that the country had a low population. At the London TDOR event that year this small number of 5 murders was blamed on the recent arrival in Guatemala of Evangelical missionaries from the United States, but when you look at those figures it is surprising that the numbers reported for murder victims who happen to be transgender is so low.
A more concerning problem that arose at that London 2012 TDOR was the attempt to massage the figures to arrive at the notion that transgender women are more likely to be murdered than any other group in the world. The list of the murdered read out at TDOR events numbers about 300 or close to one murder worldwide per day. Compare that to 2015 in the United States were law enforcement officers are shooting dead three people per day, or the United Kingdom in 2012, where a woman was killed by a man every three days, or India in 2013 where a woman was being killed in a dispute over a dowry every hour. There are all sorts of statistical problems with all of these claims, but it shows that there are no grounds to claim that transgender women are the most murdered group in the world.
Leaving aside all these statistical issues there is an ethical problem that the transgender community needs to confront. Smith began TDOR with a web project caled Remembering Our Dead, but it has never done so. It has always been about Remembering Their Deaths. When is the last time you attended a funeral when the speeches were all about the loved one's agony on the death-bed. Remembering Our Dead is not done by recalling deaths, but by commemorating lives.
It has got to the stage where no matter how many attempts there are to improve TDOR it defaults back to a day about death. That seems unusual for a community whose activists who also like to trumpet the equally questionable statistics for transgender suicide attempts. If it was true that 40% of transgender people has attempted suicide then as a matter of urgency the highlight of their social calendar should not be massaging statistics to convince those present of their likelihood of being murdered. These two dubious sets of statistics cancel each other out: if the suicide attempt rate was so bad the murder rate would not be massaged upwards for fear of triggered further suicide attempts. It would be much better if the transgender activists cancelled the annual festival of death that is TDOR.
It is time for transgender activists to celebrate transgender lives, including the lives of those who have been murdered and who happened to have been transgender. Prefacing TDOR with a week of Transgender Awareness is insufficient: TDOR and its dubious statistics need to be consigned to history.
© Mercia McMahon. All rights reserved