On a cold November evening in 1998, Rita Hester -- a Black transgender woman on the cusp of celebrating her 35th birthday -- was found brutally stabbed multiple times in her Boston home by police.
She died hours later.
More than 20 years have passed and those responsible still have yet to face justice.
Transgender Day of Remembrance: Annually observed in November
Hester's death was not the first of its kind, but it ignited a rippling movement within the LGBTQIA+ community and beyond.
But her death also serves another purpose: a sobering reminder of a real, violent and sometimes deadly issue that transgender and non-binary people could face: anti-transgender violence.
"There was a time, when I was much newer to this project, where I really hoped that I wouldn't be having a 20th or a 21st, etcetera, [Transgender Day of Remembrance] -- that this would be an issue we would be celebrating its end," Gwendolyn Ann Smith, an advocate who co-started the first annual observance Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999, said. "Rather we're still seeing just how big of an issue it is, and we're seeing this grow both in issues facing trans people and trans violence."
The term, "anti-transgender violence," was a term Smith said she and others used, Following Hester's murder in the late 1990s and beyond.
However, it's used with a much broader context than some may realize.
"You don't have to be transgender to be accused of not fitting into a gender role appropriately for whoever your assailant is," Smith said. "We have seen cases where individuals who were young children, or even toddlers, who have been victims of anti-transgender violence simply because their assailant thought they were not being appropriately masculine or feminine. We have also seen adults who were not themselves transgender-identified, who nevertheless were attacked because they were viewed as not being manly or being feminine."
The Human Rights Campaign has tracked anti-transgender homicides since 2013. So far, more than 200 transgender and non-binary deaths have been identified in the United States.
Last year marked the deadliest year on-record, with nearly 60 lives taken.
At least 32 more lives have been lost in 2022.
"It's become something that is a regular part of the lives of many transgender people and those that care about us. Unfortunately, the amount of murder and violence we face is quite high," Smith told 11Alive.
All of these figures tracked by advocacy groups, however, is likely an undercount. That's due to a variety of reporting issues and lack of information that may be available when these incidents occur.
A lag in reporting time, misgendering, and dead-naming individuals, can all contribute to underreporting, according to information provide by HRC to 11Alive.
"You have times where people will not be identified as trans, where they'll be identified by birth names and gender. And any notion of being trans isn't presented," Smith said. "You'll see cases where it's identified 'male wearing women's clothing' or, 'bearded woman' -- referring to a trans-masculine person. So it becomes harder to kind of find that data with that sort of language in play, or again, lack of identification."
Two other contributing factors, which are considered potential increased-risk factors and impact the underreporting of anti-transgender homicides, fall on the spectrum of intimate partner violence and engagement in sex-work for survival.
"Transgender people who engage in sex work face higher rates of intimate partner violence and sexual assault. Unfortunately, the criminal status of sex works leads many to avoid interactions with law enforcement or to decline to seek assistances, even when they themselves are victims of a crime or traumatic event. It can also prevent those with criminal charges from securing housing or other employment opportunity," HRC's "Dismantling a Culture of Violence" report states.
"You'll have situations where if a trans person has been, say, in the sex working field in order to try and make a living, that will also oftentimes impact whether or not they're reported on, because in many cases that doesn't get reported and [it] ends up going away," Smith told 11Alive.
Intersectionality of violence: Stigma, denial of opportunity and other factors lead to increased risk
A variety of factors, including stigma, denial of opportunity, and other increased risks compounded can create a "culture of violence" when it comes to the transgender and non-binary communities, according to the HRC.
"Even in the face of this physical danger, hatred and discrimination, transgender Americans live courageously and overcome unjust barriers in all corners of our country," their report further states. "But until we as a country collectively address and dismantle these barriers, transgender people will continue to face higher rates of discrimination, poverty, homelessness, and violence."
Despite an already long history of stigma and violence against the community, Smith said it's an issue that continues to increase and impact our world.
"I think we are seeing much more of this and it's really what's happening and it is getting worse," she said. "And that's very frightening to see that happening. You know, I really don't know where to go from there."
Overwhelmingly, the data collected shows a disproportionate number of deaths associated with anti-transgender violence are people of color, specifically Black transgender and non-binary women.
The HRC told 11Alive that 77% of victims shot or fatally killed by other violent means were transgender women of color. Of that, Black transgender women represented 66% of all known victims since 2013.
"The predominant are trans-feminine people or trans women, African-American individuals under the age of 30. It's impossible to deny the demographics in that," Smith said. "It's been a steady demographic in anti-transgender violence since I started tracking it. The first cases were African-American trans women."
"It's an intersection of different oppressions that you see affected, where you're seeing people who are attacked because they're trans, because they're women, because they're Black. All of these issues come together to create a higher tendency towards violence and death," she added.
'Things can get better, even when it's dark":
Transgender Awareness Week is observed annually from Nov. 13 - 19, to help raise visibility about issues transgender and non-binary communities face.
"There's still a need for awareness, not only on the issues of violence, but also on what trans people are, who they are, what we're doing in this world and understand kind of where things are coming from," Smith said. "The hard part is that we can say these things, but people need to also listen to what we have to say and hear what we're about. Beyond that, you know, if people aren't listening, how do we move forward?"
Nov. 20 this year marks the 23rd annual Transgender Day of Remembrance, which honors the memory of those who have lost their lives -- like Hester in 1998 -- to anti-transgender violence.
Of the more than 30 lives taken and identified this year, at least two victims have been linked back to Georgia.
Kathryn "Katie" Newhouse, a 19-year-old, neuro-divergent transgender woman was killed by her father this March in their Cherokee County home. Her father later died by suicide.
11Alive obtained court records showing two previous incidents of family violence in the home, leading to deputies making arrests.
Keshia Chanel Geter, a 26-year-old Black transgender woman was shot and killed in Augusta, Georgia on July 20. The HRC lists her death as at least the 21st anti-transgender homicide in 2022.
"I think that probably the one thing I wish people would understand the most about transgender people is that, quite honestly, we just want to live. We just want to survive. This is the most visceral example of that desire - to just live and survive," Smith said.
11Alive continues to honor all people and communities through its Voices for Equality series. If you or a loved one is experiencing any form of anti-transgender violence or discrimination, a list of resources can be found below: