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TDOR 2018: Remembering Those We’ve Lost, Celebrating Those Who Remain

Trans Day of Remembrance finds two different Richmond groups gathering together to honor those lost to anti-transgender violence over the past year.

Marilyn Drew Necci | November 20, 2018

November 20, 2018 marks the 20th time the international LGBTQ community has observed Transgender Day Of Remembrance (TDOR). This annual ceremony, first observed in 1999 to commemorate the murder of Rita Hester, has become an important way for members of the LGBTQ community to come together and remember those who’ve lost their lives to anti-trans violence over the previous year.

TDOR is intended to offer support for marginalized members of the LGBTQ community, and to ensure that the trans people lost over the past year are neither forgotten nor swept under the rug. But in recent years, TDOR has evolved to encompass a variety of goals and reflect the perspectives of multiple segments of the LGBTQ community. The results of that evolution can be seen in the two TDOR ceremonies taking place in Richmond today.

According to TDOR.info, the names of 23 transgender people who were murdered in the United States since last November 20 will be read at this year’s TDOR ceremonies. Yesterday, Human Rights Campaign released a report that contained some concerning statistics. Not only were 74 percent of 2018′s identified transgender murder victims misgendered or deadnamed during initial police and media reports of their deaths, 82 percent of victims were transgender women of color.

These numbers reflect an upsetting trend that has continued for years now, in which the vast majority of LGBTQ murder victims have been transgender women of color, black and Latina women in particular. For some within LGBTQ communities of color, this has resulted in TDOR taking on some uncomfortable connotations.

In their essay “Trans Necropolitics,” C. Riley Snorton and Jin Haritaworn express concern that those conducting TDOR ceremonies around the country only relate to trans people of color as murder victims, and don’t adequately address the effects of institutional racism on not only the deaths but the lives of trans people of color. In the essay, Snorton and Haritaworn advocate for a more intersectional approach to transgender activism, one that clearly recognizes the obvious and important role race plays in anti-transgender violence.

Concerns like these have given rise to Transgender Day of Resilience, an event intended to augment rather than replace Transgender Day of Remembrance. “Trans Day of Resilience is an expansion and reimagining of Trans Day of Remembrance, not a replacement,” a statement on the Trans Day of Resilience website reads. “We need space to mourn the dead as well as celebrate, support, and defend the living.”

Richmond-based observances of TDOR have been taking place since 2007, when local activist Kenneth Decker formed a TDOR organizing committee. For Decker, the purpose behind TDOR commemorations is to bring an end to the need for TDOR. “To me, the whole day is about putting itself out of business,” he told GayRVA in a 2017 interview. “We want to bring an end to the need for the Transgender Day of Remembrance, and we’ve always pushed beyond simply doing a memorial service to bring in people to influence legislators and law enforcement personnel, those who can bring about the change that’s needed so that these deaths will no longer occur.”

As part of the attempt to influence these groups, LGBTQ liaisons from police departments in Richmond and the surrounding counties were invited to attend the TDOR ceremony in uniform. While the stated purpose was to assure the safety of attendees, some objected to the decision to have uniformed police at the event. This disagreement eventually led to the creation of a second TDOR event in Richmond. It was established by Nationz Foundation, Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and other community volunteers, and first took place in 2017. One of the event’s organizers, Ted Heck, spoke to GayRVA at the time.

“There are a lot of members of our community that are really uncomfortable with police. There’s a long history of well-documented oppression by police, and that is often most targeted towards members of communities of color within the LGBTQ community,” Heck said. “We wouldn’t object to law enforcement attending if they were so led, but we would want them to not come in uniform… it’s a matter of having some understanding of people’s needs, as far as their prior experiences and trauma.”

The event established by Nationz Foundation incorporated the principles of the more recent Transgender Day of Resilience movement, creating a combined ceremony known as Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience (TDORR). “We wanted to do something a little different than the normal TDoR by also honoring the resiliency of the transgender community and the individuals who are still with us now,” Nationz Foundation director Zakia McKensey told GayRVA in a 2017 interview. “And not making the event so morbid and depressing by celebrating those lives that were lost, and also uplifting ones that are still with us.”

Activists and law enforcement officials at the 2017 tree-planting ceremony. GayRVA file photo

Both Richmond’s original TDOR group and the TDORR group are holding ceremonies this year. The TDOR group will be meeting this evening at the tree planted on 2017′s Transgender Day of Visibility to honor those whose lives were ended by anti-trans violence. The tree was planted in the parking lot of the VCU Police office building as part of a collaborative effort between TDOR founder Kenneth Decker, VCU, and the Richmond Police Department.

Today, Decker and other local LGBTQ advocates will come together with RPD and the VCU Police Department to commemorate TDOR, as “part of a continued effort of RVA law enforcement and LGBTQ+ partners working to improve relationships with historically marginalized, abused, and neglected communities,” according to the facebook event page.

In addition to remembering the victims of anti-trans violence over the past year, the event will also feature the dedication of a Memorial Bench. “Many law enforcement agencies are working to improve relationships with the historically marginalized community,” the facebook event page states. “We hope the symbolism of the tree being planted on VCU property and the participation of law enforcement is not lost on the community.”

This year’s TDORR event will be held at Diversity Richmond. The event, presented by Nationz Foundation, Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and Diversity Richmond, continues to emphasize resilience as well as remembrance, and will feature music and poetry. “We want to honor the resilience of trans people who are still walking authentically today, and who are survivors of violence, and are in the struggle and dealing with it every day,” McKensey told GayRVA in a summer 2018 interview. “Honoring those lives that were lost, yes. But also celebrating us who are still here and are making moves. Making the moment not traumatic, but informative and powerful.”

The Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony at the memorial tree will take place behind the VCU Police building at 220 E. Broad St, at the intersection of 3rd and Marshall Streets. The event begins at 5 PM; a reception will follow. For more info, click here.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance and Resilience will take place at Diversity Richmond, located at 1407 Sherwood Ave, beginning at 7 PM. For more info, click here.