Three years after a Massachusetts jury acquitted William Palmer on murder charges in the death of 23-year-old Chanelle Pickett, who was killed on Nov. 20, 1995, another black transgender woman was found dead in nearby Allston, a suburb of Boston. Rita Hester, 35, died on Nov. 28, 1998, after being stabbed 20 times, according to NBC News.
Across the continent, San Francisco-based transgender activist Gwen Smith was surfing America Online. “I was talking in a chatroom that evening that Rita Hester was murdered, and when I talked to people about it, they said they had never heard of the Chanelle Picket murder,” Smith told NBC News. “It made me realize we really weren’t looking at the issue of people getting killed.”
Hester’s murder led to Smith creating the Remembering Our Dead web project, where candles are lit beside digital obituaries for murdered transgender and gender-nonconforming people. Then the next year, in 1999, Smith observed the very first Transgender Day of Remembrance.
This year, the somber annual event is 20 years old, and it continues to draw attention to the worldwide epidemic of anti-transgender violence.