”Tiffany. 18 years old. Cause of death – dismemberment”
”Camille Verona. 24 years old. Cause of death – suffocation”
”Luna. 27 years old. Cause of death – gunshot to the chest”
And that is just to pick a few examples at random.
In the past year, there have been 268 reported murders of trans women and trans men around the world. And that is just the number we know about. The true figure is undoubtedly far higher. While the statistic in itself is depressing, it’s the individual stories of violence and brutality that lie behind it that is truly shocking.
Since 1999, 20th November has been the annual date for Transgender Day of Remembrance. Its purpose is simple; to remember the members of the transgender community that have been victims, but also to acknowledge those who have committed suicide, as statistically the trans community are the social group most likely to be driven to take their own lives.
In the UK, the largest commemorative event for TDoR is held in Manchester, also the site of the world’s first permanent trans memorial, a 12 foot tall wooden tree sculpture in Sackville Gardens, the green space in the heart of the city’s famous Canal Street area.
From small beginnings, Transgender Day of Remembrance has steadily increased in profile and media coverage. Tony Cooper, organiser of the Manchester event and a trustee of trans charity Sparkle told me. ‘This is our eighth year in the park and it’s grown hugely every single year’.
This year over 200 people crammed into a marquee in Sackville Gardens to hear the names of those who have died as a result of violence in the past year read out, listen to a rousing performance from the Manchester LGB Chorus and then at the end of the evening to light candles and assemble at the memorial. Some had also brought flowers and handwritten cards to leave in memory. From the trees close to the memorial hung photographs of some of those we had gathered to remembered; their faces watching us, a moving reminder of the unnecessary waste of human life and why so many felt compelled to gather in the park on a chilly Sunday evening in late November.
The assembled crowd was truly diverse in terms of age and background and many had traveled long distances to be there and pay their respects. Many also had there own stories to tell of personal experiences of hate crime.
As we set our candles in the sand boxes at the foot of the huge wooden sculpture, I chatted to a lady called Carol who had travelled overnight from near Bristol to be in Manchester.
‘I had trouble myself. I was in hospital earlier this year. It all got too much for me. I had this friend and she got killed. They smashed her face up. I saw her in the hospital. They made her look so horrible. I still see her all the time looking like that but it’s better now I’ve had help’.
The overwhelming message of TDoR is a simple but powerful one ”You Were Known To Us”. Each speaker reinforced this. This does not just apply solely to victims of hate crimes on other continents however. A few speakers also noted that there were many instances of trans men & women who had died of natural causes but whose families had opted to bury them as their birth gender, denying them their identity. As one lady who had recently lost a close friend who was then buried as a man by her family told me, ‘I want to lay flowers on the grave of the woman I knew, not a man called David who was a stranger to me.’
It was a theme that Tony Cooper focused on in his speech too, along with the importance of community and reaching out to others, both half a world away and far closer to home, ‘Do we need a day to remember? No, we don’t need a day… But a day to say you were us. Because you are us.’
The Sparkle weekend, a celebration of the transgender community held in Manchester each July, has grown to a point where, after Pride, it is the Gay Village’s second biggest weekend of the year in terms of visitor numbers and revenue. In purely commercial terms, this year’s event generated a not inconsiderable sum of £2.8 million for the local economy. It is indicative of the growing visibility of the community in the UK.
The remit that the trustees of Sparkle have set themselves is of ”education, action and accessibility”.
Manchester is a city often celebrated for its tolerance and diversity and this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance saw a large number of attendees from across the wider spectrum of the LGBT community. It’s certainly a start. But when in 2014, there remains 21 European countries where by law trans women and men must be compulsorily sterilised prior to gender reassignment surgery, there remains much to be done.
And to quote one of the speakers from the marquee ”268 people were murdered in the last year. Just for being themselves”