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Tacoma flies trans flag, officially marking Transgender Day of Remembrance for first time

A slender man with a short blonde mohawk haircut looks up to at a pink, white, and blue trans flag at half mast on top of building.
Mayowa Aina
Astro Pittman looks up at a trans flag at half mast raised at Tacoma's city hall on Nov. 19, 2021, in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance. It's the first time the city has officially acknowledged the day even though it has been observed by LGTBQ+ communities and allies since 1999.

The top of Tacoma’s city hall building featured a new fixture Friday: a pink, blue and white flag representing transgender communities.

The flag was raised in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, which is observed in Nov. 20. It's an event LGBTQ communities and their allies have marked for more than 20 years.

It started in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, a Black trans woman stabbed to death in Boston. Since then, Nov. 20 has become an international day of reverence.

“It’s a time to recognize and come to terms with both the interpersonal and structural violence that’s impacting the trans community,” said Kai Aprill-Tomlin of the Seattle-based Gender Justice League. “Every year more and more trans people are murdered and lost to violence.”

With 47 known killings, 2021 is the deadliest year on record for transgender people. But advocates say that's likely an incomplete picture.

These crimes are difficult to track because police and reporters often misgender victims or they use former names, known as “deadnaming.”

In Washington this year, two Latina trans women were killed. Zoey Martinez of Maple Valley and Rikkey Outumuro of Centralia were each shot to death in separate incidents.

The city of Tacoma officially proclaimed Nov. 20 Transgender Day of Remembrance, acknowledging the day for the first time.

The flag raising was a joyous occasion for Astro Pittman, who founded Seattle’s Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2017.

“To see this recognition for our communities gives us hope for the future for our community and the ways in which awareness and support and understanding are growing and expanding throughout our state,” Pittman said.

But it's still a time of mourning. Several people at the event were teary-eyed.

The flag was raised then lowered to half mast in honor of the dozens of trans people killed this year.

Looking at the names and photos of those killed year after year is still difficult, Pittman said.

"To see the violence that they suffer just for living out loud, just for being their true authentic selves is frightening and painful to witness."

Tacoma City Council Member Kristina Walker said it was a long overdue and historic moment for the city.

“We really pride ourselves at the city of Tacoma on supporting and celebrating our LGBTQ Plus community,” Walker said. “That does mean not just celebrating with them, but also recognizing the challenges and hardships like those that we're acknowledging here today.”

The event drew attention to violence and discrimination trans people face as well as disproportionately high rates of suicide, poverty and other challenges.

To address this, TDOR often includes a week of programming hosted by a variety of groups. UTOPIA Washington is a Kent-based LGBTQ+ organization for Pacific Islanders. This week, the group hosted events like a workshop on supporting sex workers and a legal clinic to assist with name and gender marker changes.

It's especially important to help trans women of color who face layers of discrimination and inequity and are most at risk for violence, said Adrianna Suluai, a program coordinator at UTOPIA.

“When you address the needs of those most affected, everybody benefits from it,” Suluai said. “It’s just like a tree: If you are just working on its branches, it would only benefit the branch.”

Suluai said speaking out and standing up against discrimination while trans people are alive helps to prevent them from becoming a statistic.

Oliver Webb, the board chair of the Diversity Alliance of the Puget Sound, echoed the sentiment during Tacoma’s flag-raising event. He said it's important not just to recognize the obstacles trans people face, but to address them.

“I wish that it was enough to just be here loving and supporting our trans siblings. But it is not,” said Webb. “Love is nothing without actions.”

Virtual and in-person events observing Transgender Day of Remembrance are being held in both Seattle and Tacoma this weekend.

Mayowa Aina covers cost-of-living and affordability issues in Western Washington. She focuses on how people do (or don't) make ends meet, impacts on residents' earning potential and proposed solutions for supporting people living at the margins of our community. Get in touch with her by emailing
Vivian McCall is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host. She previously spent eight years as a reporter in Chicago, where she wrote for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times and WBEZ public radio.