Serenity Hollis was fatally shot while out for a walk in Albany, Georgia, at 24 years old. Shai Vanderpump also died by gunshot, at age 23 in Trenton, New Jersey. Samuel Valentín, a college student, was murdered in January in Puerto Rico. His body was found dumped on the highway, with five bullet wounds.

These were just a few of the victims of transphobic gun violence honored by New York-area activist group Gays Against Guns on Transgender Day of Remembrance last month. Draped in white veils on a frigid night under the lights of Washington Square Park, demonstrators held placards showing the faces, names and stories of victims. Attendees silently moved from one placard to the next, pausing to reflect on those lost during a particularly violent year.

Gays Against Guns—formed after the 2016 mass shooting at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida—describes itself as a direct-action group working to reduce gun violence. 

“As we learned about the violence against members of the trans community,” said Jay Walker, 54, the New York-based organizer for the group, “we saw that the overwhelming number of murders were caused by gun violence.” Walker said that the effort to change policy includes applying public pressure to  politicians, weapons manufacturers and others blocking gun-control regulation. 

“As we said back in the day: naming, blaming and shaming,” he said. 

Now, the group gathers annually on Nov. 20 for Transgender Day of Remembrance, which was initiated in 1999 in response to the murder of Rita Hester, a Black trans woman stabbed to death in Boston a year earlier. Transgender people are four times more likely to experience violent crime than cisgender people, according to the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law, which researches gender-identity law and public policy. 

That violence is on the rise. The Human Rights Campaign, which tracks fatal violence against trans or gender nonconforming people, reported that this year has been the most violent on record, with 50 deaths in the 50 states and Puerto Rico. There were 44 such killings recorded in all of 2020. Most victims were Black and Latinx women. 

Stacy K., who did not feel safe having her full name published,  attended the rally as a chance to remember people she has lost. A few years ago, she did support work with groups of transgender youth. 

“Now I wonder, are they still around?” she said. “You don’t work with many youth groups where you have to wonder that. So many people over the years have died too young.” 

Attendees gathered not only to reflect, but to demand a better future. “I wanted to come out and support,” said Eric Brodzinski, a 32-year-old product designer in New York. “I feel like trans rights are constantly in question.” 

Following the silent demonstration, a rally held by The Queer Detainee Empowerment Project, the Caribbean Equality Project, and Trans Asylias focused on the experiences of trans migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, who advocates say face unique threats of violence in detention centers. 

Organizers called for a strengthening of laws for asylum seekers fleeing transphobic violence, along with the immediate release of trans asylum seekers.

Iman Le Caire, an Egyptian trans activist living in New York, founded Trans Asylias to assist trans asylum seekers in relocation. She said it was vital to call attention to the community of transgender and gender nonconforming people at risk worldwide. 

“We will not be free until they are all free,” she said.