Secondary sources are important because they ensure that the writer is one step removed
from the subject, and the material is less biased and more objective. It is understandable why
Wikipedia has this rule, as it establishes integrity in the information being provided. It protects
readers from reading grandiose, inflated accounts that people create, and assures that individuals
cannot write up complimentary reports about themselves.
When writing about a member of an underrepresented community, however, that rule
presents a problem: It is extremely difficult to find secondary sources written about them; they
are after all, underrepresented. Libraries are a wonderful solution to this problem and are ideal
places to host research-based events about subjects that are difficult to find sources for.
Librarians are the “gateway drug” to good research. They know the trustworthy search engines
for secondary sources, the search terms to use, and the correct way to cite the source when you
write. They are fonts of information in the age of misinformation and alternative facts.
On this Thursday night after work, I sat in the classroom and typed “Gwendolyn Ann
Smith,” into the Google search bar. I easily found her, alive and well, and recently published in
The Huffington Post. Her article there led me to a bio that said she was a transgender woman
noted for founding Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). The trail continued, and led to
the website dedicated to TDOR. There, I read that on November 20th 1999, Gwendolyn held a
vigil to honor Rita Hester, a transgender woman brutally murdered in Massachusetts the year
before. The vigil has been held every year since and has become acknowledged across the world.
On the TDOR website, there is a list, organized by year since 1998, of transgender people who
have been murdered because of their perceived gender identity.
The bread crumbs stopped there. Secondary sources? I could only wish.
It was frustrating. As a recent college graduate, I was used to finding every piece of
information with one click of a mouse. JSTOR, a self-described digital library of academic
journals, books, and primary sources, makes it especially easy to grow used to one-step research.
But writing a Wikipedia page for a living woman not known by the public is a different
Gwendolyn, as I referred to her in my head, deserved a well-written Wikipedia page, but
I was having trouble finding indisputable facts about her. Where was she from? How old was
she? What was her day job?
I dug more.
A link on the GLAAD website revealed that she is a columnist in the Bay Area. I kept
clicking from internet page to internet page and ended up with about three sentences about her.
Three measly sentences about someone who had been working since the mid ’90s seemed
shameful in my eyes. They read:
Gwendolyn Smith is a transgender woman who founded Transgender Remembrance
Day, a day to memorialize people who have been killed as a result of
Smith founded a website called, Remembering Our Dead, which memorializes
people who have died as a direct result of hatred and prejudice based off
of gender. The site seems to have been blended with the Transgender
Remembrance Day website, and also publishes information about transgender
people who have been murdered, due to anti-transgender violence.
That was it. I wanted to know more, and felt I owed Gwen more. But how?