Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20 time to grieve, gather, hope

By Nikoel Hytrek

November 17, 2023

Transgender Day of Remembrance, founded in 1999 and falling on every Nov. 20, has a straightforward goal of remembering and mourning the trans, nonbinary, and gender-diverse people who have died because of anti-trans violence and hatred.

Max Mowitz, program director for One Iowa, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, also sees it as an opportunity to have important conversations about how that hatred works, who it targets the most, and how to prevent it in the future.

“Trans Day of Remembrance does something really important, which is that it grounds us in our current moment, and it grounds us in the very real violence and oppression that a lot of LGBTQ people face,” they said.

“It’s also a time to ground in the ways that intersecting identities can lead to a more marginalized and oppressed experience,” Mowitz continued. “Who in our community is the most marginalized? Who in our community is experiencing that violence disproportionately?”

They pointed out trans women, particularly trans women of color, are far more likely to be attacked and killed for their identity.

Remembrance vs. Visibility

Transgender Day of Remembrance is linked to Transgender Day of Visibility, which happens in March. That holiday, Mowitz said, is focused more on celebration and joy.

The Day of Remembrance aims to understand and spotlight the marginalization faced by trans people, who are disproportionately unhoused and unemployed because of housing and employment discrimination, which is illegal, but hard to prosecute because of lack of awareness and reporting.

“A lot of the time, when I’m having conversations with cis or straight allies, they are surprised to hear that people still lose their lives to anti-trans violence,” Mowitz said. “And so this [day] is a good way to recenter that and have a conversation around that as well.”

Data for rates of violence against trans and gender-diverse people are incomplete and hard to collect because the violence is often unreported or misreported. However, a study released in March 2021 showed trans people are more than four times more likely to experience violence compared to cisgender—non-transgender—people.

Remembering Erin Ezra Young of Iowa

Multiple reports show more than 300 trans people have been killed worldwide in 2023, 26-30 of them in America, and at least one in Iowa.

Erin Ezra Young, a graduate student working toward a master’s degree in counseling at the University of Northern Iowa, died in September.

Trans Day of Remembrance, Mowitz said, helps show the result of current discrimination and violence against trans people. And it shines a light on the loneliness many trans people feel—one of the biggest issues Mowitz sees in their work.

“We know that there are people who have already lost their lives because of the anti-trans legislation we’ve seen in the state of Iowa. Typically, those lives lost are through suicide,” they said. “If you can’t see a future for yourself in your state, if you don’t see a future for yourself in your community, how are we able to keep those folks alive and support them?”

How to support

They also pointed out that feeling of isolation is the point of the discriminatory laws, and emphasized the importance of building up community and support networks to combat that.

Trans people and their allies aren’t taking discrimination lying down, either. Mowitz said it’s one of the things that gives them the most hope.

“When we see this legislation and this hostility all across the country, I see on the other side of that— supporters that come just as hard,” they said. “They are coming in mass, they’re donating, getting engaged, volunteering. They are showing up just as fiercely as anti-trans hostility is popping up.”

There are also a number of organizations to help trans people access the care they need—like the Iowa Trans Mutual Aid Fund (ITMAF), which provides financial support for things like therapists, doctors, clothing, and travel out of state. Mowitz is also a board member at ITMAF.

“I am so proud and honored to see all of the different ways that people that love trans people—and trans people themselves—are able to create community and space and resources for ourselves,” Mowitz said.

“I’m always hopeful because I believe in the power of the people,” they continued. “And I believe that we, by building out good communities and collaborating with each other, can create a better future and kind of change the tide on this violence and hostility.”

  • Nikoel Hytrek

    Nikoel Hytrek is Iowa Starting Line’s longest-serving reporter. She covers LGBTQ issues, abortion rights and all topics of interest to Iowans. Her biggest goal is to help connect the dots between policy and people’s real lives. If you have story ideas or tips, send them over to [email protected].

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