November 16, 2022
Trans Week of Awareness is an annual event that starts on November 13 and leads up to Trans Day of Remembrance on November 20th. It is a time in which transgender, non-binary, and other gender-expansive advocates bring awareness to the community through education and activism.
Trans people are faced with many issues, several of which threaten their health and safety. Compared to our Cis counterparts, we’re at higher risk for assault, domestic violence, police brutality, and wrongful imprisonment – and this has been proven time and again throughout history. The murder of Rita Hester is one such case.
Rita Hester was a trans woman of color and a performer. She was a fixture of the club, known for being a bridge between the city’s queer bars and uptown’s hetero nightlife. She enjoyed cooking and often did so with her best friend, Brenda Wynne. On November 28th, 1998, Rita was expected to show up at Brenda’s apartment, but she never did.
At 6:12 that night, police were called to Rita’s apartment with reports of a fight. They found her still alive with stab wounds. But, for some reason, an ambulance did not arrive until over an hour after dispatch. Rita succumbed to cardiac arrest upon arrival at Beth Israel Hospital.
Rita was just one of many Trans people who had been killed that year (within eight months, eight others had been reported, and at the time it was estimated that at least 1 trans person would be murdered in a month-long period), but her community’s love and grief garnered some attention. Over 200 people attended her vigil, and after the disrespect shown by media outlets – repeatedly deadnaming Rita and referring to her as a “cross-dressing man”- many were moved to action.
Gwendolyn Anne Smith drew similarities between Rita’s death and Chanelle Pickett who had died three years prior. Upon realizing that no one had remembered the name of Chanelle, Gwendolyn was determined to bring visibility to all who had lost their lives. Thus began the organization of the Remembering Our Dead web project (an attempt to compile the names of murdered Trans folks from the 1970s and onwards) and Trans Day of Remembrance.
Anti-Trans violence has been a problem for well over a decade, and has become even more wide-spread since Rita’s death. Just last year, a record high of 375 trans lives worldwide were reported. With the increasing number of murders, it had become obvious that just paying respects to our fallen wasn’t enough. Too many names, too many people, were being lost, and too many of our plights were being ignored. And so Trans Week of Awareness came into being. Leading up to Trans Day of Remembrance, community members and their allies would share their stories and experiences in an effort to bring awareness to the disproportionate violence we were, and still are, experiencing.
Today we celebrate by educating our community and allies through stories, articles, discussions, workshops, and activism- addressing the various forms of prejudice, discrimination, and violence we encounter as a community.
We at TEP ask all of you to join us in spreading awareness. Share your stories. Have discussions with your loved ones about the issues trans people face, or attend workshops that focus on the dismantling of trans* oppression. Educate yourself on Trans* identity and Trans* experience. Be someone who spreads awareness. Let’s end the ignorance, together!