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Trans Day of Remembrance: Mourning the lost, fighting for the living

Content warning: violent transphobia, transmisogyny, suicide

Lamia Beard. January 17th, 2015.  Norfolk, Virginia.

Taja Gabrielle DeJesus. February 8th, 2015. San Francisco, California.

Ashton O’Hara. July 14th, 2015. Detroit, Michigan.

Kandis Capri. August 11th, 2015. Phoenix, Arizona.

While the official Transgender Day of Remembrance site lists over 70 trans people killed worldwide since November 20th, 2014, Transgender Europe reports 271 trans people murdered between October 2014 and 2015. This number is consistent with stats from another monitoring project that reports that over 1,700 trans people were murdered in the last seven years. The total number of deaths due to violence are even higher, as this number fails to take into account those trans people who have taken their own lives, and those trans people whose trans identities were erased after their murders.

Trans communities exist in a perpetual state of emergency. Daily violence against trans people continues unchecked, pervading every level of every society, and sustained by existing social injustices. Anti-transgender violence falls hardest on those society already deems undesirable – transgender women/femmes of color around the world, and Black transgender women/femmes in America.

We exist in a time and country where Caitlyn Jenner, a rich, conservative, white trans woman, can receive a standing ovation and an award in the same year that at least twenty-two trans people, most of them Black and brown trans femmes, are violently murdered. Never before have trans people been so visible in media and popular culture, and never before have trans people been so violently under threat. Every year trans communities grieve for those lost before tirelessly taking up the banner once more, advocating for greater health care services, an end to the private prison industry, legal and institutional recognition, equitable educational opportunities, and an end to the violence that takes so many of our sisters and siblings away from us.

We must understand violence as something bigger. Violence is not one man with a knife alone at night; it is the shouts of “tranny” and “shemale” that stab us daily on the streets and at the store; it is the feeling we get when health care professionals look at us and call us “sir;” it is the experience of endless job hunts and hunger, the pain of being rejected by women’s homeless shelters because trans women aren’t “real women,” the bitterness of sex work for survival, the danger of prisons that claim our lives, the sting of abusive relationships that claim our bodies. Violence is the system we inherit from the world, and the weight of that violence is thrown onto the backs of low-income Black trans femmes and other femmes of color.

Here at Stanford University, ranked 2014’s #1 LGBT-friendly school, systemic injustices are diluted but not nearly solved. Trans students on campus continue to face daily misgendering, gender binarism and cisnormativity, difficulties with health care services, erasure in classrooms and curriculums, and a lack of access to gender-appropriate bathrooms and housing. Our educational labor is taken for granted by peers and professors alike and we are either completely ignored or propped up as tokens to represent all trans peoples’ experiences – even as we struggle with accessibility issues, maintaining our mental health, and finding our own ways to thrive on (and often off) campus. These disparities fall especially hard on Black trans femmes on campus, as they do off it.

Cisgender people, we demand better. We deserve better.

We demand that cisgender people end violence against the transgender community, and particularly against Black trans femmes. TAJA’s Coalition asserts that “transphobia and violence against trans people is not a trans problem. It is a problem rooted in and created by cisgender people, and there is a call to see active support of and participation in local and national efforts to create resources, access and justice for our trans communities.” This looks like self-education. This looks like holding yourself and your peers accountable, like teaching your families, friends and coworkers that trans people are worthy of dignity, worthy of love.

We demand that Stanford University not only make its campus safe and accessible for trans students, faculty, and staff, but challenge its complicity in cycles of prejudice, discrimination, and structural oppression. We demand accessible gender-neutral restrooms in every facility, straightforward name and gender changes in university databases, and gender-inclusive curriculums. We demand an intersectional, historically accurate, and culturally competent education concerning trans communities be given to students, faculty and staff, and that Stanford take the lead on these initiatives. It doesn’t matter how “safe” or “diverse” a place Stanford is if it the policymakers, professionals, and community leaders it creates fail to unlearn transmisogyny, cisnormativity, and violence. We refuse to live among and graduate with those individuals who will go on to deny our humanity.

These demands will not be met overnight, and these demands alone are not enough. To truly undo historical and deeply embedded injustices in our society, activists and administrators must look towards critical change that targets systems larger than Stanford – the prison-industrial complex, gentrification, police brutality, and many others. The path to liberation begins with a commitment to action, and with the humility to admit when old ways of thinking require upheaval. Today is Trans Day of Remembrance; today we grieve, mourn, uplift.

Tomorrow we act.

Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu. 

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Lily Zheng

Lily Zheng

Lily Zheng '17, is a weekly columnist for The Stanford Daily, a Social Psychology major and co-president of the student group Kardinal Kink. Her weekly column revolves around consent culture, queer and trans identity, social justice and activism. In her spare time, she enjoys wearing too much black clothing, accidentally sleeping in her makeup and spending quality time with her partners. Contact her at lilyz8 'at' stanford.edu – she loves messages!