On Wednesday, November 20th, take a moment to think about your birthday. From the minute you were born, you became a child of God. But, perhaps, when they wrapped you up in that soft little blanket and gave you your name, your parents didn’t pick the right one.

This is a reality faced by transgender people every single day.  An umbrella term, transgender is the word used to describe any person who doesn’t identify with the sex they were assigned at birth. Some identify as the opposite gender, or even a combination of the two, while others don’t feel comfortable as either. Sex, a biological trait characterized by hormonal and physical differences, is completely separate from gender, which are the traits that society and culture dictate as being either “masculine” or “feminine.”

The average life expectancy for a trans* person is 23 years. Think about that, for a moment. In ten days, I turn 19. That would leave me 4 years.

4 years is a significant amount of time, of course; 4 years of high school and 4 years of college are a very common commitment for the majority of people my age.  Yet, according to the Sidney Borum Jr. Health Center, only one third of teachers in public schools are willing to engage in efforts to make learning communities safe for all students, regardless of how they identify. One third of those students that identify as transgender will attempt suicide.

Transgender Day of Remembrance is observed every year on November 20th in honor of Rita Hester, who was murdered in her Boston apartment in 1998. She was a highly visible and vocal member of the transgender community, working locally for education on transgender issues. Police still have not found the person (or persons) responsible for her murder.

Since the first vigil for Rita in 1999, Transgender Day of Remembrance has come to be a night where over 327 trans* people from the United States (and over 300 more from other countries) are honored. Many more will never go reported, but we still hold vigil in all of their memories.

These lives were all lost due to the anti-transgender attitude that is ingrained in our society, which places so much value in the “traditional” male and female gender roles. That’s why education and awareness are so important. Lives are at stake here- not political agendas, not fashion statements. Real, live people, like me, with birthdays, friends, families, and dreams that reach far beyond the age of 23.

It can be extremely difficult for a transgender person to believe that God loves them, even without the extra harassment that comes from the world around them. My second year of college finds me safe and blessed to have a family, both real and chosen that encourage me endlessly as I progress on my own journey.  It’s hard to have faith in the all-girls res hall that things are going to get better, but that’s what faith is about, after all.

I’m not ready to be a statistic or a news story, or to “remember” any of my friends, either.  It is my prayer that you, too, might take a moment today to pray for the lives that were taken far too soon, as well as the countless others that went unreported or are currently facing danger or self-hatred in our world. I continue to preserve my relationship with the compassionate Christ I follow, in the knowledge that advocacy, education, and awareness are the best possible forms of action to end the stigma and violence around the transgender community.

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