Transgender Day of Remembrance: The Story of Rita Hester

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Transgender day of remembrance was created on November 20, in memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman that was murdered in 1998. 

 

It was created by transgender advocate, Gwendolyn Smith in the year 1998. It was originally a vigil in memory of Rita but soon evolved into a holiday. Rita Hester was a black woman who was stabbed 20 times in her apartment. She was 34 years old. Her murder is still under investigation after 23 years. 

 

“Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost.” said Gwendolyn Smith. 


Many people in the trans community face hate crimes and violence every year. In 2018, 91% of the 28 trans people killed were black women. Black woman are disproprtionately affected by transgender hate crimes because of both race and gender, and Rita Hester was one of those people. However despite her death sparking a movement, she remains largely forgotten. Trans history is rarely taught in schools and even one of Rita’s close friends didn’t realize transgender remembrance day was made for her death. 

 

“I looked it up online, and it was just right there,” Kate Noonan said. “I was floored.”

 

After Rita’s death, many newspapers kept misgendering her. They refused to use the right pronouns and often referred to her with her dead name. For example, the Boston Globe referred to her as “a man who sported long braids and preferred woman’s clothes.”

 

According to Gunner Scott, former executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Action Coalition, media coverage of Rita Hester was very different compared to media coverage of Matthew Sheppard, a white gay college student who was also murdered. 

 

“The worst part was the gay community … in contrast to how Matthew Shepard was kind of uplifted, and that has continued to this day,” said Gunner Scott. 

 

A lot of transphobia comes from inside the LGBTQ+ community itself. Gay people, specifically white gay men, are a lot more widely accepted than other sexualities and genders. 

 

While Rita Hester’s legacy lives on, her name remains largely forgotten. Maybe one day in the future, people will think of her name when they think of the hundreds of trans lives that have been lost to hatred.