Trans* is a term used to describe people who do not identify, or do not fully identify, with the gender they were assigned at birth. They still face misunderstandings and hate in society, but fortunately, there is also growing understanding and openness in our society. For example, in 1981, the Transsexual Act was introduced in Germany, allowing trans* individuals to change their name and gender on official documents.
Unfortunately, this process is still very lengthy, and those who go through it must undergo humiliating questioning. The law was a step in the right direction, but it still falls short. To raise awareness about these and other injustices, discriminations, and outdated ways of thinking, there is Trans* Awareness Week.
It takes place every year between November 13th and 19th as a prelude to Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th, and aims to celebrate the pride of the trans* community and create visibility. Trans* individuals speak out during these days, share their experiences, and remember the victims of transphobic violence.
Transgender Day of Remembrance
Trans* people have always been subjected to discrimination, violence, hate, and exclusion. In particular, trans* women have often been victims of rape or harassment.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance dates back to the murder of African-American trans* woman Rita Hester, who was stabbed to death in November 1998 in the US state of Massachusetts. On this day, victims and survivors of transphobic violence are remembered worldwide. However, very few people know anything about the person whose cruel death led to this day.
Rita Hester was born on November 30, 1963, in Hartford, Connecticut. She had four siblings and had always been Rita, there was no special coming out. Her family accepted her for who she was. However, many relatives used male pronouns and her birth name when talking about Rita. Whether they had always done so or started doing so after her death is hard to determine. As the climate in Hartford was tough for trans* people, she moved to Boston in her early twenties and quickly settled in. She was an open and cheerful person who quickly made friends and was liked by everyone. On the evening of November 28, 1998, two days before her 35th birthday, she was expected at a friend’s house, but she never showed up. She had been fatally injured and brutally attacked in her Boston apartment and later died of heart failure in the hospital. Her murder remains unsolved.
In the media coverage following her murder, Rita Hester was persistently addressed with the wrong pronouns and names. Some even described her in a way that implied that she was just dressed up as a woman. Inspired by Rita’s death, Gwendolyn Ann Smith founded the online project “Remembering Our Dead to honor transgender homicide victims” in the same year. A year later, she founded the Transgender Day of Remembrance and initiated marches to honor the victims of transphobic violence in Boston and San Francisco.
Between 2008 and 2018, 2,982 trans* and gender-nonconforming people were killed worldwide, two of them in Germany. However, there is likely a high number of unreported cases, as these hate crimes are often not recognized as such by authorities. Reasons for this include a lack of understanding of intersectionality, insufficient or condescending media coverage, and the absence of a supportive lobby. In the US, at least 231 trans* people and non-gender-conforming people were murdered between 2013 and 2020, with 5 out of 6 being women. Among these 158 trans* women, 4 out of 5 were people of color. Black trans* women like Rita Hester make up the largest proportion of victims, and the death toll is rising continuously.
This year, we had to say goodbye to Malte C., who showed courage when women were insulted with homophobic and misogynistic slurs at CSD in Münster, and who paid with his life for it. What can we do to prevent further acts of violence? We must inform ourselves, we must pay attention and support.
How can we support trans* people?
Regardless of whether someone is trans* or not, there are more ways to offer support than one might initially think.
It is very helpful to inform oneself. This can avoid unconscious discrimination and educate those around us. “We are all assigned a social gender at birth. But that does not always fit our inner truth and that is why a new space must be created – a space for self-identification. I was not born a boy, my gender was assigned to me at birth. Understanding the difference is important for our culture and our society to improve the way we talk about and treat transgender people.” This was said by Geena Rocero, a Filipino-American supermodel and transgender activist.
Specifically during the Trans* Awareness Week, one can participate in events and demonstrations, but also at any other time.
And most importantly: Be attentive and listen! Respectful when a trans* person communicates which pronouns they prefer to be addressed by (this also applies to every other person). Listen when they share their experiences. If someone is being discriminated against or even attacked, help should be sought instead of looking away.
In an article by Vice, you can find more suggestions on how to support your fellow human beings: Read me!
Every person should have the same rights. That’s easy to say, but unfortunately, the reality is very different. But every day, we can all show how to do better and start making the world safer for every person.
* The asterisk is used to create space for a wide range of diverse people who identify with the term “trans.” For more information, see here : https://www.trans-inter-beratungsstelle.de/de/begriffserklaerungen.html
² The term “People of Colour” is used here to adopt the term “Black” from English without discrimination. For more information, see here: https://diversity-arts-culture.berlin/woerterbuch/poc-person-color
³ Black is understood here as a social and political construct, independent of biological factors. For more information, see here : https://diversity-arts-culture.berlin/woerterbuch/schwarz