The Silent Epidemic: Violence Against Transgender Women
Just because a problem is recurring does not mean it is not pervasive. As with the George Floyd protests, Floyd was but one of thousands of African Americans who was targeted and murdered simply on the basis of his race. Yet it was his death that sparked protests nationwide and alerted many white Americans to the great discrimination African Americans consistently face.
Transgender women- especially black transgender women- have been largely excluded from contemporary activism and societal awareness. Few have been paying attention to the silent epidemic of the US: the high rates of murders of transgender women.
In 2019, the Human Rights Campaign reported at least 27 deaths of transgender people due to fatal violence, 91% of whom were Black transgender women. This number is on the rise: 2020 has already seen at least 25 transgender people fatally shot or murdered by other violent methods. In early July, at least six black trans women were found dead in just nine days: Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Draya McCary, Tatiana Hall, and Bree Black. If this disturbingly rapid pace continues, 2020 will set a heartbreaking record for violence against the transgender community.
Experts typically use the phrase “at least” because many of these murders go unreported or are misreported (around 70% of known victims are misgendered in police statements and media reports). Most transgender people who were killed were victims of gun violence, which is why discussion over how to resolve this human rights issue has become somewhat partisan.
While the individual cases may differ, the general trend is that transgender women of color are most affected by both fatal and non-fatal violence. This is because they are subject to racism, sexism, and transphobia.
Regarding fatal violence, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) found that in 2017, 87% of victims of transgender murders were transgender women. Of this 87%, about 80% of victims were African American, 10% were Latinx, 5% were Native American, and 5% were white.
Regarding hate crimes, 52% of hate crimes were transgender, and 40% were transgender women of color. According to a US Transgender Survey of 25,000 transgender respondents, 10% of victims were verbally harassed, 10% were physically attacked, and nearly 50% were sexually assaulted.
However, the problem does not solely lie within the lethal prejudice in American culture; the police are ineffective at carrying out justice. Transgender women who survive hate attacks are six times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police than are other LGBTQ+ victims. Black transgender people reported much higher rates of biased harassment and assault by police: 38% and 15%, respectively.
Though America is still very far from achieving transgender equality, some progress has been made. On the social grassroots level, BLM advocates are beginning to recognize the intersectionality of black rights, women’s rights, and transgender rights. In the wake of the murders of black trans women Riah Milton (Ohio) and Dominique Fells (Philadelphia), thousands have protested for black trans lives in NYC and across the nation. On the judicial level, the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in early June ruled that the 1964 Civil Rights Act protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees from sex-based discrimination.
On the individual level, there are multiple ways one can be an ally and help transgender people. Smaller, more everyday actions include spreading educational threads on social media, reading a book, or watching a film covering transgender history and stories, signing petitions, and having respectful conversations with both transgender and binary peers. More definitive actions include donations, calling or emailing one’s senator or representative to advocate for pro-trans legislation, and voting for elected officials who support trans rights.
Within us, we all have the power to do our part to STOP this silent epidemic. List of Resources:
The Last Time I Wore a Dress by Daphne Scholinski
My Husband Betty by Helen Boyd
Queerly Beloved by Diane and Jacob Anderson-Minshall
The Life and Death of Marsha P. Johnson (Netflix)
Paris is Burning (Netflix)
National Center for Transgender Equality
Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund
Transgender Law Center