By Josh Mock, BA Arabic and Persian
Students showed solidarity with the Transgender community on 20 November at a vigil on the SOAS steps.
Organised by Trans* and Gender Identity Student Officer Rachel Lindfield, the vigil marked Transgender Day of Remembrance, which ‘honours the memory of the transgender people whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence’, according to LGBTQ+ media monitoring organisation GLAAD. Students brought placards to the vigil calling for reforms to Gender Identity Clinics (GICs), the protection of trans* children, and support for trans* healthcare and economic justice.
A number of people addressed the crowd and reflected on issues currently affecting the trans* community. Speakers highlighted the 81% rise in transphobic hate-crime reported to the police over the past three years, and the fact that 41% of trans* people reported being threatened with physical violence or assaulted in 2011-2012.
Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT) reports that 3,314 murders of trans* people in 74 countries have been recorded since 2008.
Lindfield brought to attention the wait time that trans* people face at GICs, which currently stands at 26 months. Lindfield named the Conservative Party austerity measures as the cause for these delays. Speakers emphasised the need for better measures to tackle endemic transphobia. Lindfield especially called for cisgender people to become more aware of trans* issues and trans* activists.
These issues have transnational significance. For example, India’s recent Transgender Persons (Protection of Rights) Bill was also mentioned at the SOAS vigil. The bill threatens to take away the right to self-identification in India. Transwomen of colour were celebrated and remembered at the vigil, as they are disproportionately affected by violence towards the trans* community and have often been at the frontline of trans* activism.
First observed in 1999 and spearheaded by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) began as a vigil to honour the memory of Rita Hester. Hester was a transgender woman murdered in 1998.
‘Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence,’ said Smith. ‘With so many seeking to erase transgender people – sometimes in the most brutal ways possible – it is vitally important that those we lose are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.’
The trans* community faces persecution around the globe. Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide (TvT) reports that 3,314 trans* people have been murdered in 74 countries since 2008. TvT also reports that 331 trans* people were killed between October 2018 and September 2019.
But the actual number of trans* deaths is likely to be higher, as ‘in most countries, data on murdered trans* and gender-diverse people are not systematically produced and it is impossible to estimate the actual number of cases.’
The countries with the highest number of murdered Trans* people in 2018 are Brazil (130 people), Mexico (63 people) and the US (30 people). One trans* murder, of Amy Griffiths, has been recorded in the UK since the 2018 report.
The SOAS Students’ Union (SU) was criticised for failing to make people aware of the vigil. A group of students, led by a trans-woman of colour, delivered a list of demands to the SU office on 22 November. The list called upon the SU to release a public apology via email for failing to properly inform the student body of the Remembrance Vigil. The students also demanded that the SU commit to bringing in a QTIBPOC (queer and trans* indigenous, black and people of color), or at least trans* counsellor regularly, provides a fortnightly private space for trans* and non-binary students to meet, and organises a public forum ‘with as many permanent SU staff as possible … to introduce their roles to the student body and explain what they have been doing in this academic year.’
In a statement, the SU said: ‘We take full responsibility for the hurt and anger caused here and appreciate the labour students have done by bringing these demands to us.’ The SU has agreed to meet the timeline of the demands brought to them.