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Transgender Day of Remembrance: A Call to House Our Homeless

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Nov. 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, or "TDOR," a day of memorial for those in the trans community who have been lost to violence. The number of trans or gender-variant people murdered each year is horrifying: Around the globe, we lose about five people a week to such violence. TDOR elicits reflection on this type of discrimination and violence. The memorials are solemn and leave those of us who have lost our brothers and sisters grief-stricken.

The epidemic of discrimination, hate and violence toward the trans community has been well-documented by the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, but perhaps more succinctly by Transgender Europe (TGEU) and the report of their Trans Murder Monitoring Project. The project recently published the number of those murdered, 265, with the caveat that these cases are just "those that we know" (as always).

TDOR is what I call the first day of "transgender winter" each year. It's important to remember that employment discrimination, loss of income and loss of family also result in the loss of one's home in many cases. Underemployment does not provide a suitable home, food for sustenance or even basic health care. Working in the underground economy helps along many transgender individuals but also puts those working in it at high risk of violence. Many are living on the streets in the cold of winter with no place to go. Emergency shelters that have open beds are usually only available overnight between dusk and dawn, and most transitional shelters are already filled until spring. And those are just the shelters that accept trans people and treat them in the proper manner.

TDOR should remain solemn and kept fixed on its purpose, but it should also sound the call to end the violence, discrimination and alarming rates of homelessness that trans-identified people face. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's amendment to the Fair Housing Act that ended housing discrimination for LGBT-identified individuals and the Employment Equal Opportunity Commission's ruling to end employment discrimination based on gender identity are new tools to help end homelessness in the trans community. As shelters seek renewal of their HUD grants, they should be encouraged to follow a new model of affirmation and acceptance of trans-identified and gender-variant people. Renovation to single-bed shelter rooms needs to be the rule and not the exception, because single-bed shelter rooms accommodate the privacy one needs and deserves. Municipalities should be encouraged to develop LGBTQ-specific, supported housing units. Nondiscrimination legislation must include gender identity and gender expression among protected classes as such legislation is introduced across states and within municipalities with the key phrase "public accommodations" in the language.

As we remember those whom we have lost, we need to remember why we lost them and call for equal rights and treatment. Activists now have tools in their hands to help change the way we live and how we can help our homeless. We need to become visible in the places where we are not known and remain visible where we have already been seen. TDOR is a sad day for all, but it also should be the day when we call for better.