TRANSGENDER DAY OF REMEMBRANCE is an annual observance to commemorate the lives of transgender people who have died from discrimination and violence against transgender people and those who are perceived to be transgender. The first observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance took place on November 28, 1999 with vigils in the Castro District of San Francisco and in Boston, Massachusetts. Since then, observances have been held annually on or around November 20th in hundreds of cities across the world. Since at least 2005, members and supporters of Cleveland’s LGBTQ community have held annual vigils and ceremonies in observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance.
The origins of Transgender Day of Remembrance can be traced to the killing of Rita Hester. On November 28, 1998, Hester, a Black transgender woman from Boston, Massachusetts, was stabbed and killed in her own apartment. Hester’s killing and other cases like hers drew attention to the frequency of killings of transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, and the speed with which their deaths were forgotten by the community. This motivated Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender woman from San Francisco, to begin the “Remembering Our Dead” website memorial in order to commemorate the lives of transgender people who have been killed. With the help of fellow activist Penni Ashe Matz, Smith organized the first observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 28, 1999, the first anniversary of Rita Hester’s death. The observance consisted of a candlelight vigil and a reading of the names of transgender people who had been killed in recent years, practices that have remained prominent in observations of Transgender Day of Remembrance for 23 years.
In Cleveland, the first documented observation of Transgender Day of Remembrance was on November 20, 2005. The event was held by a coalition of LGBT organizations in the city, including the LESBIAN/GAY COMMUNITY SERVICE CENTER OF GREATER CLEVELAND, PFLAG CLEVELAND, TRANSFAMILY OF CLEVELAND, and the Cleveland chapter of People of All Colors Together (formerly Black Men and White Men Together), an LGBT organization dedicated to eliminating racism. Events were held at the Center and included musical performances by Kathy Harvey and Joni Christian, as well as speeches by Thom Rankin of the Center and civil rights attorney Randi Barnabee.
While 2005 marks the first documented observation of Transgender Day of Remembrance in Cleveland, media coverage of later commemorations of the day have identified the first observation as occurring in November of 2004. Unfortunately, due to the lack of news coverage of Transgender Day of Remembrance and many other early events significant to Cleveland’s LGBTQ community, it is difficult to date the first commemoration with certainty. The documentation of the 2005 Cleveland event comes directly from the archived webpage for Transgender Day of Remembrance run by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, which was updated annually to list events in cities around the world. There is no such documentation on the archived website for an event in Cleveland in 2004, but this does not necessarily mean that an event did not occur. The list on the website was nonexhaustive, as it was compiled as the website manager was informed of events by individuals and organizations, making it highly likely that not all events that observances were documented there. Whether or not the first observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance in Cleveland occurred in 2004 or in 2005, it can be said with certainty that the Cleveland LGBTQ community has been commemorating this day annually for nearly two decades.
Since the first documented observance of Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2005, numerous LGBTQ organizations in Cleveland have become involved with organizing annual events. In 2006, TransFamily of Cleveland and the Lesbian/Gay Community Service Center of Cleveland collaborated again to organize Transgender Day of Remembrance, making the observance an annual tradition in the city. More LGBT organizations became involved that year as sponsors, including the ACLU of Cleveland, Cleveland Pride, Equality Ohio, HRC Cleveland, and the Kenmore Cultural Arts Center. The event included musical performances and a presentation highlighting the lives of victims of anti-transgender violence that year.
Since 2012, Transgender Day of Remembrance in Cleveland has been consistently covered in LGBTQ and mainstream publications. Each year, the number of organizations involved with organizing commemorative events has continued to grow, with different coalitions of organizations leading ceremonies in different years. In 2012, Margie’s Hope, a transgender support organization, the Diversity Center of Greater Cleveland, and a number of other local LGBTQ organizations, including the LGBT Center of Greater Cleveland and TransFamily of Cleveland collaborated to arrange the annual observance. Events have consistently featured a vigil and speeches about the lives of transgender people that have been lost to violence.
In many years, Transgender Day of Remembrance in Cleveland has focused on the lives of transgender people killed locally. In 2013, the city’s reading of names began with Ce Ce Acoff, a transgender woman who was killed when an intimate partner discovered that she was transgender and stabbed her before disposing of her body in a pond in Olmsted Township. In the days following the commemoration on November 22, 2013, two more transgender women–Brittany Stergis and Betty Skinner–were murdered in Cleveland. As a small but major city, Cleveland is home to a significant percentage of reported violence against transgender people, and observations of Transgender Day of Remembrance in the city often begin with reading the names of transgender Clevelanders who have been killed.
Last Updated: 8/22/2022
Morrison, Laura. “Cleveland’s Transgender Day of Remembrance Memorial, Candlelight Walk is Tonight.” Cleveland Scene. November 16, 2018.
Riedel, Samantha. “Remembering Rita Hester, Who Changed What It Means to Remember Trans Lives.” them. March 31, 2022.
Smith, Gwendolyn Ann. “Where is the Day of Remembrance?” 7th Annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Updated November 20, 2005. Accessed July 7, 2022.