Transgender Day of Remembrance 2023

Chery and Ruth sitting on stairs and smiling.

Cheryl and Ruth share the importance of memorializing the lives lost due to anti-transgender violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). They also highlight the importance of celebrating trans lives by supporting their work, art, and history, based on their experiences. 

Written by Cheryl Nong, Research Coordinator, Honours Bachelor of Science, Psychology and Neuroscience Double Major and Ruth Rodrigues, Qualitative Data Archivist Team Lead, Master of Education, Social Justice Education 

While many initiatives on campus focus on celebrating the LGBTQ+ community, one day in particular focuses on who is missing from the picture: Transgender Day of Remembrance.  

Transphobia, the hatred and discrimination of transgender people, often results in violence against transgender people. The loss of life and violent history due to transphobia requires the LGBTQ+ community and its allies to acknowledge the severity of transphobia. In a mission to preserve the legacies of trans people, Transgender Day of Remembrance exists to increase awareness of the prevalence of transphobic violence and fight the erasure of trans history.  

History of Transgender Day of Remembrance  

Three people holding a banner advocating for trans rights with stars and blue and pink blobs in the background.

Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) was founded in 1999, when transgender advocate and writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith led the first-ever TDOR in San Francisco. A candlelight vigil was held to remember the names and stories of people whose lives have been lost to anti-transgender violence. In particular, the date commemorates Chanelle Pickett and Rita Hester; these black trans women were murdered 3 years apart in November 1995 and 1998, respectively. 

TDOR strives to raise public awareness about the impact and severity of anti-transgender violence. The event is often memorialized through community vigils, marches, discussions, and arts-based activities including poetry readings or movie screenings. Above all else, the goal aims to avoid viewing people with rich and complex lives as statistics. 

Remembering Our Dead, a global project dedicated to collecting data on anti-trans violence, echoes this sentiment on its website homepage: “Please don’t read anything into the raw numbers. What matters is the lives lost, and their stories.” 

Cheryl smiling while sitting outdoors.
Cheryl attended the Trans Day of Remembrance event on November 20th.

Transgender Day of Remembrance at the University of Toronto 

On Monday, November 20th, U of T’s Sexual and Gender Diversity Office hosted its own event to recognize TDOR. As an attendee at the event, I found myself thinking about Chanelle and Rita, the two women whose lives—and losses—had ultimately brought me to the event in the first place. Both women had been killed near where I grew up around Boston; Rita Hester actually passed away in the hospital where I interned every summer in high school

Students, staff, and faculty gathered for an evening of chatting and arts activities. Over tea and hot chocolate, attendees illustrated poster papers, decorated tote bags, and created friendship bracelets and custom buttons. Around 5:00pm, the group came together for a candlelight vigil. Following remarks by students and staff, attendees were asked to think of a person whose life had been lost to anti-transgender violence and hold them in mind for a moment of silence.  

A hand holding a shield and a vigil candle with hearts and blue and pink blobs in the background.

I closed my eyes and imagined the photos I found while researching stories, with Rita tucking her hair behind her ear and Chanelle smiling next to her twin sister. When I opened my eyes again, I wondered what they might be doing today in a world where they were both still alive. 

Trans Projects at U of T 

As an alternate way to recognize TDOR, students can explore student-led projects on campus that focus on humanizing trans stories or exploring the absence of them.  

Students are encouraged to reflect on erased trans histories at the Mnemonic silencing, disappearing acts art exhibition in the Jackman Humanities building. The exhibition interrogates how the absence of trans histories in archives and records is connected to transphobic violence, motivating us to prioritize trans people and preserve their stories.  

Students can also contribute to U of T Scarborough’s ongoing Cabaret Commons project, which aims to preserve trans stories through an open-access digital archive. The Cabaret Commons accepts contributions such as visual arts and academic research, intending to represent the work of trans creators who might otherwise be overshadowed. 

 A ring of three people with a heart in the center and stars and blue blobs in the background.

Recognizing Resilience

In a 2012 HuffPost blog post, TDOR founder Gwendolyn Ann Smith wrote, “this day we mourn our losses and we honor our precious dead—tomorrow and every other day, we shall continue to fight for the living.”  

TDOR not only memorializes lives lost to transphobia but recognizes the resilience within every trans person. U of T’s participation in TDOR compels us to build solidarity and allyship with trans communities so they do not endure discrimination and violence alone. 

Continuing Engagement 

Demonstrations of solidarity at U of T can reinforce that transphobia is not tolerated on campus. It signals that, in this community, trans people have the safety to thrive as individuals and exist independently of transphobic violence. There are several ways to establish solidarity, from facilitating LGBTQ+ safe spaces to supporting trans creators.  

Here are some more ways to support trans creators, businesses, and local organizations: 

  • View art and zines created in celebration for Trans Day of Resilience 
  • Visit, volunteer, or donate to the Arquives, Canada’s largest LGBTQ+ archives; 
  • Purchase from local queer vendors at the Toronto Queer Market in Barbara Hall Park; 
  • Volunteer or become a member at the 519, a queer community center; 
  • Support local queer-run businesses in the GTA and across North America on the Pink Pages; 
  • Create a Positive Space campaign to foster a more equitable environment in your campus, club, division, or other organization. 


Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition. (n.d.). A Life Cut Short: Gender Identity Discrimination and the Murder of Chanelle Pickett—Digital Transgender Archive. Digital Transgender Archive,. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from 

Mnemonic silences, disappearing acts. (n.d.). Art Museum at the University of Toronto. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from 

Project Profile: Cabaret Commons. (n.d.). Digital Humanities Network. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from 

Remembering Our Dead. (n.d.). Remembering Our Dead. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from 

Smith, G. A. (n.d.). About Gwen. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from 

Smith, G. A. (2012, November 20). Transgender Day Of Remembrance: Why We Remember. HuffPost. 

Sosin, K. (2020, July 15). Her death sparked Transgender Day of Remembrance. 22 years later, still no answers. NBC News. 

Sudborough, S. (2022, June 22). Rita Hester’s murder and legacy are important to Boston, so she’s getting a mural in Allston. Boston.Com. 

Transgender Day of Remembrance. (n.d.). GSA Network. Retrieved November 23, 2023, from 

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