As some of you may be aware, today, November 20th, will mark the seventeenth annual observance of an international Transgender Day of Remembrance. First organized by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in honor of Rita Hester, an African-American trans woman murdered in Massachusetts in 1998, the event has evolved into a memorial for all the trans people—particularly trans women and transfeminine people of color—who lose their lives each year to transphobic violence. On this day, we would like to encourage members of UAW 4121 to take a moment of reflection in honor of those we lost during 2015, in the United States and around the world, whether their names are known to us or unknown.
But more than just an act of naming our dead, more than a collective moment of mourning, Transgender Day of Remembrance serves as a reminder of the real, mortal consequences of our society’s systemic failure to provide trans people with the social and material support necessary for a full and secure existence. As such, we regard the Transgender Day of Remembrance as not merely a moment for reflection, but as a spur for action. On an institutional level, we at the Trans Equity Working Group are in the process of pushing for meaningful change at the UW: for better access to potentially lifesaving medical care, for safe bathroom access, for education that will help ensure that trans people are treated with respect on and off-campus. We stand in solidarity with activists in the wider Seattle community who are taking on serious, endemic community issues like homelessness, police violence, unemployment and poverty. But there is work that can be done on an individual level, too, which can contribute incrementally to cultural change.
Thus, on this occasion we call on all members of the UW community to be mindful in interactions with your trans peers and with each other. Using preferred names and pronouns, avoiding essentializing assumptions about sex, and respecting appropriate boundaries with regard to people’s bodies and transition histories may seem like small things, but they are essential prerequisites for respectful interaction, and failure to observe them is symptomatic of larger dehumanizing discourses that—in settings outside the relatively privileged confines of academia—have cost many people, and especially many women, their lives.
Transgender Day of Remembrance is only one day out of the year, but transgender people are part of our university and our city all 364 other days as well. Our lives are not valuable only in retrospect. Today we remember—and we keep moving forward.
Your Trans Equity Working Group