4 Reasons NOT To Host A Transgender Day of Remembrance Service At Your Church

by Chris Paige

“Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day for stories to be told and scripts to be rewritten. It’s a chance to reach out and come together against the dehumanizing violence that haunts our communities. Love is a call as well as a response, but most of all love is an action.”  –Angelica Ross

As Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) becomes more well known and it is more common for liberal churches to hold special services, it also becomes more common for us at Transfaith to receive questions like:

“How can I find transgender people to attend our church’s TDOR service?”

The question is well-meaning, of course, but if you are not already in regular contact with transgender communities, then it’s important to take a step back and ask yourself: “Who is your TDOR service really for?”

This is sometimes a harder question to answer than you might think.

1. TDOR should be observed first and foremost for and with living transgender people.

If you are not in active relationships with transgender people throughout the year, then Transgender Day of Remembrance is, literally, a sad place to begin your outreach and advocacy.

Remember, Transgender Day of Remembrance is a day about trauma. It is about acknowledging violent, often gruesome, deaths of transgender people. Your first steps of outreach should be about connecting with and investing in the living, not focusing on our dead.

2. TDOR is not a competitive sport.

Many if not most cities have community TDOR services organized and led by local transgender leaders. By creating another separate TDOR service, you may be drawing support away from existing transgender leadership.

Remember, TDOR services are more like funerals than almost any other kind of “holiday.” You don’t need to wait for an invitation to attend a community-led TDOR service. It’s often most appropriate for you to go to pay your respects and offer the gift of your presence to the already gathered community than it is to plan your own separate service.

3. Staging a TDOR service without involving transgender people is “trauma tourism.”

If your TDOR service does little to nothing to change the material conditions of the transgender communities you claim to support, then it may actually serve as a kind of emotional exploitation—even if you totally mean well.

Like the emotional release that comes in watching a horror film, being a spectator to an annual review of the deaths of transgender people may serve as a kind of emotional escapism that lets you feel like you are connected without having to get too close. It can become a distraction that prevents you from channeling that energy and concern into doing something more relevant to the transgender communities in your area.

4. Transgender Day of Remembrance is not supposed to be comfortable.

While it’s a positive sign of increased awareness that TDOR has become a recognized “holiday” in the canon of liberal causes, we are now at risk of allowing TDOR to become another opportunity for self-segregation—for us to retreat again into insular spaces with familiar people.

Research into murders of transgender people shows that anti-transgender violence overwhelmingly impacts young, Black transgender women. Most churches aren’t anywhere near the neighborhoods where young Black transgender women congregate. TDOR is a great opportunity to get out of your comfort zone to connect with those people, communities, and organizations that are better connected—this advice goes for white transgender people, too!

Of course, there are also lots of good reasons to host a Transgender Day of Remembrance service, especially if it will be meaningful to transgender people in your congregation, if your local community doesn’t have anyone hosting a Transgender Day of Remembrance service, and especially if transgender people in your community ask you to host a service. But please don’t let TDOR be just another day to make yourself comfortable going through the motions.

What might you do instead of a hosting a TDOR service?

Here are a few ideas:

  • Rally members of your congregation to go together to a TDOR service led by transgender people in the community. Take the first steps toward building new relationships in your community.
  • Take an offering to support a cause that supports transgender women of color who are still alive. The Bobbie Jean Baker Memorial Fund is one such cause, though you should also take the time to research organizations doing vital work in your local area.
  • Plan an educational event that will help your congregation become more aware and connected in your local community. Invite local transgender leaders to come and talk about their lives and the challenges they face. Compensate them for their labor.  Support their work.

If you want to learn more about Transgender Day of Remembrance, check out these additional resources:

Photo by WehoCity