Every November 20, we recognize the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which memorializes people who have lost their lives due to anti-transgender violence. There is no doubt that both children and adults who identify as trans are at increased risk for hostility. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly half of respondents reported being denied equal treatment, verbally harassed or physically attacked in the past year because of being transgender, while 47 percent had been sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Of kids and teens who were either out or perceived as trans, 77 percent experienced some form of mistreatment, such as being verbally harassed or physically or sexually assaulted because people thought they were transgender. These numbers are much higher than for the general population.
“Even in Massachusetts, transgender people are at increased risk for harassment and other forms of violence,” says Dr. Elizabeth Boskey, a clinical social worker in the Center for Gender Surgery at Boston Children’s Hospital. “It’s important for us to both acknowledge that risk and do what we can to build more accepting environments.”
Change comes slowly
The Transgender Day of Remembrance dates back to 1998, when it was held to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a Boston woman whose murder still remains unsolved. Two decades later, change has come — slowly — to Massachusetts. Earlier this month, voters affirmed the 2016 law that expanded anti-discrimination protections for the state’s transgender residents, allowing them to use restrooms, locker rooms and other public spaces that correspond with their gender identities.
“Unfortunately, ending discrimination against trans people isn’t as simple as passing a law,” says Boskey. Indeed, in the past year, 23 people died from anti-transgender violence in the U.S. alone. Education about gender identity and expression can help make a difference: Friends, family members and other allies of trans kids and adults can speak out against discrimination and advocate for equality.
Speaking out and up
How can people best work to make change? “First and foremost, respect people’s gender identity. Don’t ask a transgender person questions you wouldn’t ask of a cisgender person. Treat them like you would anyone else with the same gender,” says Boskey.
Second, she recommends intervening if you see harassment and you feel safe doing so. “You don’t have to confront the person causing the problem,” she explains. “You can just walk up to the victim and chat about the weather.”
Finally, make an effort to be aware of your assumptions about people’s genders, and consider how those assumptions color all your interactions. “That doesn’t just help the lives of transgender people,” says Boskey. “It can make the world a little more accepting for everyone.”
See a list of local events recognizing the 2018 Transgender Day of Remembrance. The Boston Children’s community will hold a vigil at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, November 20, in the hospital’s Berenberg Garden.