Transgender Day of Remembrance

Since 1999, more than 20 countries began observing Transgender Day of Remembrance. Gwendolyn Ann Smith founded the day to remember Rita Hester, a transgender woman murdered in Allston, Mass. in 1998. It began as an internet-based project and evolved into a day for memorializing the lives lost the previous year. Communities may host candlelight services, join activism marches, hold food drives and have roundtable discussions to observe the day. This year, Mental Health Center of Denver’s PRIDE in Diversity Employee Resource Group and Diversity & Inclusiveness team are hosting an event for staff to talk about their experiences and honor the lives lost this year.

Why We Observe Transgender Day of Remembrance

“We realize that in order to fully promote recovery and resilience, we must understand and appreciate how cultural experiences shape our interactions.” -Excerpt from Mental Health Center of Denver Commitment to Diversity

On November 20, we remember the transgender individuals who lost their lives and stand in solidarity with the LGBTQ+ community. We offer a safe space for people to memorialize those we’ve lost, and time to talk about how we create a safer world for transgender people.

Mental Health Center of Denver proudly provides safe spaces where folks in the LGBTQ+ community can seek services. Our service providers work with with the LBGTQ+ community throughout our programs. Steven Haden, CPRP, and Darcey Cunningham, MA, LPC, offer their thoughts on observing Transgender Day of Remembrance:

Haden explains, “As the leader in behavioral health, [we] have to make sure our doors are open to everyone regardless of gender identity, gender expression or for those that identify as transgender. We must embrace and celebrate differences, and provide a place where the people we serve feel safe.”

Cunningham adds, “The overwhelming majority of people we serve experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. We have to acknowledge a population often targeted with violence or dismissed entirely, and we must create a safe space for people to heal. The victims of violence deserve acknowledgement and grieving. We must say their names. We hold this day of remembrance to honor their lives and bring awareness to ignorance, bigotry and unnecessary violence in hopes that we can contribute to their end.”

What Can Service Providers Do to Help?

Transgender people may deal with unique mental and emotional issues during their lives.  According to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s U.S. Transgender Survey, 40% of transgender adults reported serious psychological distress in the month before they took the survey. That is eight times more than the rest of the U.S. population and recognizing this divide is important. Mental health professionals can begin understanding why transgender folks are underserved when they understand issues, like gender dysphoria.

One way care providers can help transgender people with their well-being is to treat them as a whole person first. They should also be aware that people identifying as LGBTQ+ may have experienced unique trauma and discrimination in their lives.

“Regardless of staff’s background, training or position, we must provide a non-judgmental, safe space for the people we serve,” says Cunningham. “We don’t have to know everything — we can’t. We must carry the knowledge that whomever walks in our door, for whatever they need, they are a person first.”

Haden adds, “It is critical we understand that barriers to equitable care for LGBTQ+ populations include discrimination, transphobia, and homophobia in healthcare settings. There is an ongoing need for cultural competency when working with LGBTQ+ communities.”

Understanding what constitutes intrusive and inappropriate language and questions, hostility, and verbal abuse towards the LGBTQ+ community is a big part of making sure those behaviors end. By attending trainings and putting in consistent work towards providing safe and inclusive spaces, care providers can continue improving the experience of people in the LGBTQ+ community and work on eradicating the barriers to equitable care.

Understand the Terms

Part of observing Transgender Day of Remembrance is also understanding what terms in the LGBTQ+ community mean. When we have the words for what transgender people experience, we are better able to help.

Gender expression: Gender expression is a person’s external appearance and characteristics. This is usually shown through hair cut/style, clothes, behavior, voice, and more. These expressions of self may or may not follow what society typically defines as “masculine” or “feminine.”

Gender identity: Gender is a spectrum.  People can identify as male, female, a combination of both, neither and anywhere in between. A person’s gender identity refers to how they perceive themselves and what they call themselves. This is often directly related to their preferred pronouns (she/her/hers, he/him/his, they/them/theirs, etc). Someone’s gender identity can be the same or different from their sex assigned at birth.

Transgender: A term for people whose gender identity and/or expression differs from cultural expectations based on their sex assigned at birth. Being transgender does not mean that a person has a specific sexual orientation. Transgender people may identify as straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, etc.

Gender Transition: The process that someone goes through to help their external appearance match their known gender. Some people transition socially, meaning they might start dressing, using different names and pronouns and/or be socially recognized as another gender. Other people go through physical transitions where they change their bodies through medical procedures, like surgeries.

Gender dysphoria: Gender dysphoria is a clinically recognized term for when a person feels major distress that their gender assigned at birth doesn’t match the one they identify with.