Celebrating Transgender Day of Remembrance should be backed with action

Institutions simply raising trans flags doesn’t address systemic problems

SFU needs to actually support the trans community. Image courtesy of SFSS Out on Campus via Facebook

by Madeleine Chan, Opinions Editor

Content Warning: Mentions of transphobia, trans death. 

It has been almost 21 years since Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) was first held on November 20, 1999. It is held annually on November 20 to honour transgender and gender non-conforming lives lost to violence. Despite the event now being held and recognized globally, including by SFU and the BC government, transphobia continues to permeate the lives of those who should never have to deal with it. Along with hosting TDoR events, there should be further action to ensure that this day isn’t just another X on the calendar. 

Transgender Day of Remembrance, started by transgender woman Gwendolyn Ann Smith, was created to memoralize the murder of Black transgender woman Rita Hester in 1998. Last year, the BC government officially recognised the day for the first time with a flag raising ceremony. They have also committed to making the province “safe and welcoming for trans people” through avenues of education, identification, access to gender-affirming surgeries, and by “re-establishing a human rights commission,” all of which have been realized. Of course more can be done, but these efforts are substantially more than any SFU has put forth.

I must preface that the SFSS Out on Campus and Women’s Centre have been instrumental in voicing their support for the trans community and do incredible work at SFU to make them feel supported on campus. However, SFU as an institution hasn’t done much to help. SFU’s Health & Counselling system that is supposed to help students is rife with transphobia. They also allowed an event led by transphobic speakers to remain scheduled at an SFU campus. A school that puts up trans flags during pride month but would allow these atrocities to happen does not truly prioritize the well-being of its students. 

SFU should be creating more gender neutral washrooms, making sure that the Women’s Centre and Out on Campus have adequate resources to operate, publicly condemning any form of transphobia on campus, and not make decisions that put the validity of transgender lives into question. Especially when acts of transphobia aren’t decreasing.

The reported number of transgender and gender non-conforming people killed from 2008 to 2020 across 75 countries is approximately 3,665. This doesn’t even account for those lost to suicide, accidental death, premature death, those who aren’t out, and those misgendered in police and journalistic reports. This number also affects trans women of colour more severely, and does not account for the probable high levels of violence that occured prior to anyone recording them. The total number of trans people murdered in the US this past August already exceeded the entire number for 2019. This isn’t something that should be pushed under the rug especially when the problem is getting worse.

I hate that this topic is even an opinion, that this day isn’t as widely recognized as Remembrance Day, that we only remember those who have suffered in the name of imperialist war created by the same hegemonic structures that perpetuate trans violence. But it is, and we need to push for it to not just be an opinion, particularly at SFU, so that it’s importance becomes a staple in the common consciousness. We need to push for these days to not even have any names to read out so that we aren’t always mourning those taken too soon, but celebrating the flourishing of trans and gender non-conforming folks.

Out on Campus is hosting an event on Transgender Day of Remembrance, Friday, November 20, at 5:00 p.m. PST via Discord, which you can find on their Facebook page.