Queer Women History Forgot: Rita Hester

For Women’s History Month, GO is celebrating LGBTQ women we wish we could have learned about in high school history class. 

Rita Hester was a beloved Bostonian, a 34-year-old Black trans woman who Reverand Irene Monroe said “everybody knew … especially in the trans community and in the African-American LGBTQ communities.” A musician, dancer and drag performer who was a regular at venues like Jacque’s Cabaret, Model Café and the Silhouette Lounge, Hester loved covering Whitney Houston songs and was described by those who knew her as smart, beautiful, bright and elegant.

So when Hester was found close to death in her apartment after being stabbed 20 times and eventually died from the chest wounds, there was an outpouring of emotion from a city in mourning. A vigil was held, a procession following, and a movement started.

This was in 1998 and this week alone, four Black trans women have been brutally murdered. Eighteen years after Hester’s death, there has been a lot of progress for trans visibility, but the violence against trans women (especially trans women of color) remains staggeringly high, which is why activists refused to let it be in vain. Following Hester’s death, trans activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith created a virtual vigil in her memory (Remembering Our Dead), and in the memory of all of her other trans sisters who had been killed. And that next November, the very first Transgender Day of Remembrance was held in Boston and several other cities. The mass remembrance was so powerful, it spawned an annual honoring of lives lost, and every November 20th, trans people and allies come together in cities all over the world to say the names of those gone too soon; names like Rita Hester.

Hester’s murder is still unsolved, despite the Boston Police Department reopening the case in 2006. For more on Rita, read TransGriot’s piece “Rita’s Story” and watch this video from Black Transwomen to learn more about the current conversation around Black Trans Women’s lives and gross amount of untimely deaths. Rest in power Rita, and all of your sisters.