The Origins of Transgender Day of Remembrance

On November 20, 1995, Chanelle Pickett, an African American transgender woman living in the Greater Boston area, was murdered. She had been strangled. The Transgender Community Forum, a chat room on America Online (AOL), reported Chanelle’s death. The director of AOL’s Transgender Community Forum was Gwendolyn Ann Smith.

Three years later on November 28, 1998, Rita Hester, another African American transgender woman, was also murdered in Boston. She was stabbed 20 times. Gwen went online to chat with friends. She talked to others in the community and there was an air of sorrow that a Black trans women had been murdered so brutally, but though another Black transwoman was killed in the same month, in the same city, no one remembered Chanelle Pickett.

This lack of community memory frightened Gwen. She felt a, ”sense of frustration, seeing our community not seemingly having any idea of these murders, and feeling that they might not even care.”
So, Gwen began researching transgender deaths-by-violence. She launched the website Remembering Our Dead in late 1998. In March 1999, a fledgling trans rights group, called TG Rage, planted the seed for what would become Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR). During a showing of “The Brandon Teena Story” at San Francisco’s Castro Theater Gwen and about 50 others held a vigil, holding candles and signs showing the names Gwen had collected. Gwen said a few words.

That autumn Gwen and Penni Ashe Matz decided to hold the first TDoR observances on November 20, 1999, in Boston and San Francisco. About 70-100 people gathered in the rain at Harvey Milk Plaza in The Castro for the first TDoR candlelight vigil.

Their sign read:Sunday, November 28th, 1999, will be the one year anniversary of the death of Rita Hester. Rita was stabbed to death in her own apartment.

Remembering Our Dead and TDoR began as one person’s quest to preserve transgender history and to memorialize those who died by violence year after year. And though other communities celebrate holidays born from a spirit of joy or liberation, the first holiday the transgender community put on the calendar is a solemn observance, a plea to respect human life.

The TDoR Website reports that there have been 386 recorded violent deaths of trans people worldwide. The true number is certainly higher, as many deaths go unreported, the victims misgendered and dead-named by family and media. In the United States, the Human Rights Campaign has reported 32 murders of trans people in the United States since last November 20, the majority of whom were trans women of color.

Remember their names.

Text by Ms. Bob Davis
Art by Robyn Adams

The goal of the Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive (LLTA or simply Louise) is to increase the understanding of transgender people and encourage new scholarship by making transgender historical materials available to students, scholars and the public.

The archive is named in honor of Northern California transgender pioneer Louise Lawrence, who began living full-time as a woman in 1942, first in the Berkeley, CA, then San Francisco.  She, along with Virginia Prince and others, published the first incarnation of Transvestia in 1952.  Louise’s address book was the initial subscription list and she was instrumental in developing the trans community’s connection to pioneering sex researchers such as Alfred Kinsey and Harry Benjamin. MORE BIOGRAPHICAL INFO HERE

"The history of marginalized communities is elusive, imperiled and best preserved by the community itself."

Ms. Bob DavisFounder, LLTA

"I think this
is our Denise....."

Discovering Forgotten Scrapbooks of Trans History

Feminine Presentation

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Professional Female Impersonators

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Trans Activism

With gratitude for the support of:

Horizons Foundation
LEF Foundation / California
Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence
Small Change Foundation
St. Francis Lutheran Church Endowment
LLTA is a sponsored project of the GLBT Historical Society


Your donation to the LLTA is tax deductible thanks to our partnership with the GLBT Historical Society of San Francisco. Please help us carry out our mission to preserve our transgender history.


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A Message from Ms. Bob Davis

Founder and director of Louise Lawrence Transgender Archive

For over 35 years I have been fascinated by the history of my trans community, the people who formed it and those who preceded it.  The first transgender magazine I bought was the premiere issue of Female Mimics International in 1979.  By the early 1990s I had accumulated a rich trove of transgender history, information that many in the community wanted to see.  I began to share the archive by writing history columns for trans community publications such as Lady Like, Transgender Community News and Transgender Tapestry.  Many of these articles are available at the Transgender Forum archive  I have presented lectures on trans history at conferences such as the 2nd International Congress on Crossdressing, Sex and GenderCalifornia Dreamin’, and Fantasia Fair (2014). By 2000, scholars of transgender history had begun requesting access to my archive because of its depth and the rarity of its holdings.

The LOUISE LAWRENCE TRANSGENDER ARCHIVE is the next logical step, a community-based institution that will make this important collection available to scholars and the public.  The history of marginalized communities is elusive, imperiled and best preserved by the community itself.  The LLTA will preserve transgender history and encourage its study.

An Interview with Ms. Bob with David Perry’s 10 Percent Show