Jacob Williamson Source: WBTV/Channel 3

On Trans Day of Remembrance, Trans Population at More Risk than Ever


According to GLAAD, Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) was started in 1999 by transgender advocate Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester, a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester's death, and began an important tradition that has become the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance.

For Promise Edwards, a single mother of three living in Laurens, South Carolina, the day will find her at the site where 18-year-old Jacob Williamson's body was found five months ago. Williamson was a trans teen who came to live with Edwards last year, CBS News reported.

"The day after he moved in with me, he said, 'I'm trans, and I go by he/him and I want to be called Jacob,'" said Edwards to Williamson, whose mother had been Edwards' childhood best friend. "I said, 'OK. I love you.'"

"He was only allowed to be himself for 28 days."

Four weeks after coming to live with Edwards in June, Williamson went out with some friends he met on the Internet, then went missing. "His body was discovered by police on the side of a South Carolina road – just three days before Edwards' 37th birthday," CBS said.

This made Williamson the 14th trans person murdered in the U.S. in 2023, added CBS, with statistics showing that trans people are more at risk than ever only making up an estimated 0.5% of the U.S. population.

"Data compiled shows 320 trans and gender-diverse people were reported murdered between October 2022 and September 2023, according to nonprofit Transgender Europe, though actual numbers could be even higher."

"Ninety-four percent of the victims were trans feminine people or transgender women – meaning they were not assigned female at birth – and three-quarters were younger adults, between the ages of 19 and 40." CBS said, citing the report.

"Most victims were Black and trans women of colour, and trans sex workers," stated the report, its Nov. 13 publication intentionally coinciding with the start of Trans Awareness Week, which runs the week before Trans Remembrance Day.

"It's a day to honor and remember the folks that have died, but it's also a chance for us to reckon with, where do we go from here?" Arielle Rebekah, communications coordinator at the Transgender Law Center told CBS.

Already this has been a particularly fraught year for the trans population. In the United States "586 anti-trans bills have been introduced in state legislatures this year alone, and aim to restrict or completely ban access to gender-affirming care, rid trans youth of the ability to participate in sports, arts and clubs – and in more extreme cases, even threaten parents with child abuse charges for affirming their kids' gender identities."

CBS News continued: "In the current tenuous political climate, the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth is worsening, according to the results of a national survey by The Trevor Project, which found that 41% of LGBTQ+ young people had seriously considered suicide in the past year. Additionally, youth who are transgender, nonbinary and/or people of color reported higher rates of suicidal ideation than their cisgender and White peers."

In the five months since Williamson's death, "the two people he went to meet that day were both arrested and charged in his death."

"These people still get to talk to their families on Christmas. And we don't," Edwards said.

Mariah Moore, the co-director of policy and programs at the Transgender Law Center, agreed and reflected to CBS News on how imperative it is for allies to show up for trans people.

"A lot of folks are very vulnerable and feel alone and isolated," she said. "You could change the trajectory of someone's life by simply saying something – letting them know that they have someone ... that is also standing beside them, willing to fight for them."

Moore is also involved in the social service organization House of Tulip, "which was born during the COVID-19 pandemic and works to find long-term housing solutions for trans and gender non-conforming people in Louisiana, where she is based."

"It's important that we uplift those stories and use Trans Day of Remembrance...to let folks know that trans people are loved and have people fighting for them," she added. "Don't be silent when you see injustice is happening," she told CBS News.

Edwards believes Trans Day of Remembrance is an opportunity to provide support in death for trans loved ones that they may not have had in life, and bring attention to the fact that nobody is above experiencing loss.

"It means awareness that this actually happens to people that we know and we love," she told CBS News.

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