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Reflection In The Face Of Violence Against Transgender Individuals

Dan Stewart, transgender University of Missouri St. Louis student
August Jennewein/Courtesy of UMSL

Today some St. Louisans take pause to remember transgender lives lost to violence throughout the country.

“It’s a great opportunity for those that identify as transgender, those that are allies, those that want to be supportive and are learning how to recognize this day for what it really is - in the sense that to identify as transgender is dangerous in this world,” said 25-year-old Dan Stewart, a transgender UMSL graduate student.

Activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith started The Transgender Day of Remembrance as a vigil to remember the death of transgender woman Rita Hester, who was killed in 1998. Nov. 20 has become a day for different transgender groups and allies to organize events to remember the deaths of transgender individuals. Today marks the 16th annual TDOR. According to the Trans Respect VersusTransphobia Worldwide project 226 transgender deaths were reported last year. Stewart says his experience in St. Louis has been primarily positive.

“I think we’re blessed in a sense to live in St. Louis where there’s a strong community and a strong presence and organizations like UMSL are seeing that and responding to that,” he said, “but a lot of people don’t have that opportunity and privilege to life in a safe environment.”

For Stewart, a day of remembrance is a day to give thanks to those that came before him. Stewart came out as transgender while a student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. Stewart studies gerontology and currently works on issues of driving access and age. He hopes to further study health-care access for aging transgender adults. Stewart’s quick to acknowledge the privilege and resources he has as someone who is able to transition -- a privilege he says was not often afforded those that died by violence. This day is a moment to acknowledge those deaths, even if they weren’t recorded in St. Louis. because regardless of location.

“I think it’s a special moment to sort of step back and realize how lucky you are and pay respect for those women who many never have gotten respect for being who they were,” said Stewart.

One group, the Metro Trans Umbrella Group is a St. Louis-based transgender advocacy organization. The organization holds support groups and outreach programs, including a newly minted transgender and ally town hall. A town hall was held last night in preparation for the day. Recently appointed board member Kara Wolter, also 25, says St. Louis is not free of harassment but has been relatively welcoming.

“In my personal experience I have found it to be a very friendly place,” said Wolter, “I think in general St. Louis is more of an open environment to trans people than maybe some other cities.”

However, discrimination is more prevalent than outright violence. For Wolter, that discrimination emphasizes the importance of a day dedicated to acknowledging issues facing the transgender community.

“I’ve faced harassment and others I know face harassment daily, it’s not just about people who were murdered but it’s about the general fact that we’re still discriminated against,” said Wolter.

Two Transgender Day of Remembrance events are scheduled in St. Louis. One group intends to gather at outside the Ferguson Police Department at 6 p.m. to light paper lanterns, acknowledging the intersection between oppressed minorities. Epiphany United Church of Christ on McNair Ave. in the Tower Grove neighborhood will hold a remembrance service at 7 p.m. Like Stewart, Wolter sees the day not as a day of marches and bullhorns but a day of reflection.

“The Transgender day of Remembrance is very much a solemn day, it’s a day for remembering who we’ve lost, and sort of mourning that,” said Wolter.

Transgender Discussion Groups and Resources:

The Powder Room

The Locker Room

The Family Room

Expression Spectrum

Queer & Trans People of Color (QTPOC) Discussion group