Remembering our dead – Trans Day of Remembrance

Tessa Hauke November 16, 2009
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On Saturday November 21st, as part of the 11th International Transgender Day of Remembrance, trans people, their friends and allies in London will be remembering those who have died during the last year through violence or suicide because they were trans. It will be a time to mourn and celebrate them and to tell some of their stories so they are not forgotten.

It has not been a good year for trans people. Since November 20th 2008, according to the website International Transgender Day of Remembrance, 92 people worldwide have been murdered because they were trans or thought to be trans. Two of the victims, Andrea Waddell and Destiny Lauren, were murdered in the UK within the space of four weeks.

A preliminary report for the Transgender Europe and Liminalis Trans Murder Monitoring project states that there have been more than 200 reported cases of murdered trans people from January 2008 to June 2009. That is to say, on average, a trans person is murdered somewhere in the world every three days. However, these are just the murders we know about; there are cases which never reach the attention of those endeavouring to discover what is happening. Furthermore, preliminary results show the reporting of murdered trans people, particularly in South America, is increasing. Closer to home, reliable data on transphobic hate crime has been non-existent until very recently. However, public bodies are waking up to the need to monitor transphobic incidents; the Metropolitan Police Service and Home Office started recording transphobic crime two years ago.

Trans Day of Remembrance is not just about remembering our dead; it offers an opportunity to reflect upon how we can promote positive change in society in order that it moves to accept trans people and understand the issues which trans people face in everyday life. To do that, first we need to understand where society is failing and where the prejudices lie. In the UK, one of the areas identified as significant is the negative portrayal of trans people in the mainstream media.

Nowadays, it is considered unacceptable to ridicule or vilify people in the mainstream media on the grounds of race, disability or sexual orientation. Yet, as recently demonstrated by Jan Moir’s article in the Daily Mail, Chris Moyles’ comments on Radio 1, an episode from ITV’s: Moving Wallpaper and Channel 4’s documentary Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change to name but a few, the LGBT community still finds itself challenging prejudice in the media.

2009 has been a particularly difficult year for trans people with regard to the mainstream media. As mentioned above, there were two television programmes which chose to ridicule and disrespect trans people. OFCOM received a number of complaints about a Moving Wallpaper episode in which a trans woman character was ridiculed. Despite it being clearly pointed out that such a portrayal would never have been aired if the ‘jokes’ had been based on race, OFCOM ruled it was okay to satirise trans people in this way.

In the UK screening of Channel 4’s Bodyshock series Age 8 and Wanting a Sex Change, the commissioning editor of Channel Four defended the decision to mis-gender trans children and adults deliberately on the grounds that the viewing public needed to “grasp the reality of what the children and their families are going through without putting any barriers in their way. Calling the children by their birth gender, we felt, gave viewers the chance to appreciate the situation from the beginning and indeed throughout the documentary.” However, in the next sentence he admitted, “International versions of the documentary, including copies available to US broadcasters will refer to the children by their current gender.” Are the British public, compared to other countries, particularly dense when it comes to understanding gender identity or is it that programme makers feel they can get away with promoting negative stereotypes of trans people in this country?

A few weeks before the above programme went on air, the tabloids gorged themselves in a feeding frenzy on the stories of a couple of children transitioning in school. The articles implied a breakdown in society, the teaching system and parental responsibility because, heaven forbid, trans children were encouraged to be themselves and express their gender identity.

Just days after the death of Andrea Waddell, a well-known lesbian mainstream journalist, Julie Bindel, wrote yet another article which attacked trans people. Bindel is renowned for repeatedly attacking the identities and denying the authenticity of women who are trans. At the vigil held in Trafalgar Square on 30th October, Chris Bryant MP said in reference to Jan Moir: “Every single time somebody writes an article like that or preaches a sermon or makes a speech like that, what that does is put a little bit more poison into society and that’s what leads to the death of people like Ian Baynham and those people should be ashamed of themselves.” The trans community has been saying this for years about similar articles and media items which attack and demean trans people. All of us in the LGBT community need to say this is not good enough.

Unfortunately, in all of the above examples, there wasn’t a huge outcry challenging this transphobia. Yes, letters of complaint were written and where possible, the on-line comments sections of newspapers heard the trans community’s perspective but not nearly in the same quantity as those concerning Moir and Moyles.

The trans community is not large but, in spite of this, we have been somewhat successful in challenging transphobia in the media. However, we need our LGB allies to speak out in solidarity as well. If our voices of protest are joined by those of everyone in the wider LGBT community, then society at large will no longer be able to turn a blind eye to the murders of trans people.

At the Trafalgar Square vigil, there were trans people who held candles in solidarity with the rest of the LGB community – some of us there that night were lesbian; some of us were gay; some of us were bi and some of us were straight. We were there for all LGBT people. Let us unite together and condemn all homophobic and transphobic acts and in doing so, promote greater understanding and acceptance of LGBT people in society.

From 2.15pm on Saturday 21st November at the 52 Club, Gower Street, trans people, their friends and allies will be remembering those who have died during the last year through violence or suicide because they were trans. If you can’t make it on the day, it would be lovely if you can take time out from whatever you are doing at the time and spare a minute or two thinking about those trans people who have died. If you encounter a transphobic incident, please take time to address it, whether it be reporting it to the police, writing in to a paper and making a complaint, signing a petition or just taking time out to learn more about the issues which trans people face. All challenges against transphobia will help, in the long run, towards reducing the harassment, discrimination and deaths of trans people.

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