About three years ago, writing an article about LGBT youth for an introductory journalism class, I had the opportunity to speak with Sylvia Guerrero of Newark, California. Sylvia’s daughter, Gwen Amber Rose Araujo, was a transgender woman. She was brutally murdered in October 2002 by four men after they discovered that she was born male. Gwen was 17 years old.
Tomorrow, November 20, is the 12th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance. Set aside each year to memorialize the countless transgender individuals, like Gwen, who are murdered worldwide because of hate and prejudice, the day serves as a moment of reflection for the larger lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and allied community. This Saturday, we will all stop for a moment not only to remember our fallen transgender brothers and sisters, but also to reflect on the harsh realities facing those transgender folks who are still living.
Rejected and kicked out by their families, transgender youth are disproportionately represented in the homeless population (PDF). Unemployment rates within the transgender population far exceed the national average. Often rejected and misunderstood even by their gay, lesbian, and bisexual counterparts, the “T” in LGBT is the most fiercely marginalized segment of the acronym.
Here at the ACLU’s LGBT and AIDS Project, we’ve taken a stand against that marginalization. In 2008, we represented Diane Schroer after a job offer from the Library of Congress was rescinded after the discovery of her gender transition, and in 2009, we represented two women from Illinois who were denied the right to change the legal sex on their birth certificates, because they had undergone gender reassignment surgery abroad. We won Diane’s case, and got new birth certificates and a promise of a policy change for our Illinois plaintiffs, but these fights are only the beginning.
Federally recognized laws protecting the transgender and larger LGBT communities are sorely lacking. And as Congress looks to take a very conservative turn, the enactment of such laws in the near future is uncertain, at best. So this Saturday, attend a vigil in your city, commemorate those like Gwen who have fallen, and form alliances with those like Sylvia who are still alive to tell their stories. If you are a student and would like more information about how you can get involved, check out this page on GLSEN’s Day of Action. And above all, make a commitment to support the transgender community in the struggles that are yet to come.