There is a crisis in the United States of America pertaining to the endangered lives of transgender women of color. The situation has been at a very critical point for some time now, but for the first time--thanks to our nation’s most recent series of brutal murders targeting the TPOC--it seems like people outside the community are starting to notice.
On April 21st, Chayviss ‘Chay’ Reed became the ninth murdered transgender woman of color in 2017. Although the case is under investigation in Florida, the police originally misgendered her in their efforts to track down further information. The eight victims prior to Chay include Black, Latinx and indigenous trans women. At this rate, 2017 is set to surpass 2016 in the number of anti-trans murders: 27 trans people were killed in 2016, which itself marked a troubling uptick from the 21 murders documented in 2015. Trans women have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered; for trans women of color, the chances increase to 1 in 8.
But the threat of murder is only the tip of the iceberg, just one of the consequences wrought by our dangerously transphobic culture.
Among many other things, 2016 saw the mushrooming of the battle over public restrooms: namely, whether trans people should be required to use the restroom that corresponds to the gender they were assigned at birth or whether they should be allowed to use the restroom corresponding with their lived gender. Over the course of 2016, this issue of who gets to pee where became increasingly contentious: in March 2016, the Obama administration issued nationwide guidance to public schools stipulating that trans children should be allowed to use the restroom of their choice; just prior to the election, notoriously LGBT-phobic Vice President Mike Pence (then Governor of Indiana) openly objected to the guidance, arguing that bathroom-policing was a states’-rights issue.
The ostracization of transgendered people leads to a fear of the unknown amongst the general public. When mixed with rampant misinformation, this can lead to things like bullying. A study conducted by GLSEN found that roughly75% of trans students feel unsafe at school. Thanks to an overcrowding crisis which often leaves school administrators too swamped to properly deal with motivated bullies, trans students often are victimized by their school-aged peers at an alarming rate. Furthermore, 59% of trans students report being denied access to the bathroom they were comfortable using while at school. Others report being excluded from participating in extracurricular activities, enduring repeated misgendering and even being punished for wearing clothing consistent with their gender identity. The bullying is not only from peers but often from administrators, faculty and even parents of other students. Thanks, Mike Pence.
Currently there are 31 states in the U.S.A. where non-discrimination policies in the workplace do not include gender identity. This means that you can be fired or denied employment if you identify as a gender that is inconsistent with the sex you were assigned at birth. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that a large majority of trans women of color live in poverty as a result of underemployment and workplace discrimination. Trans people also regularly face housing discrimination, and it is estimated that 1 in 5 transgender people are in an unstable living situation and potentially in need of shelter services. The circumstances surrounding transgender homelessness (especially among youth) are vast and varied: causes include victimization in a home setting; running away; familial rejection; or even an inability to find a temporary living situation after aging out of the foster care system.
All these factors stem from systemic discrimination, stigmatization, humiliation, fear of or indifference to the suffering of this marginalized community.
Underemployment and poverty lead to limited access to healthcare, which is a resource the transgendered community desperately needs. Many trans women of color turn to sex work in order to support themselves, which in turn increases their rate of exposure to HIV or other sexually-transmitted diseases. A study of trans women of color in San Francisco indicated that those who were regularly subjected to transphobia were 3.2 times more likely to engage in unprotected, high-risk sexual behavior. Additionally, trans women of color are at an elevated risk for sexual violence and have the highest rate of abuse by an intimate partner--50%--across any demographic.
All of this information is extremely overwhelming and extensively exhausting. It is disheartening that our society has the tendency to degrade, abuse and marginalize an entire group of people simply because prejudice has clouded our judgement and morality. It is with great displeasure that we stumble upon the realization that for some people, their lives are routinely undervalued for no reason aside from societal misinterpretation of identity. When being yourself is so dangerous that you might not survive it, the problem lies in those imposing a one-size-fits-all standard of gendered behavioral expectations. Unfortunately, people fear what they are unwilling or unable to understand, and many times fear begets violence--of both the physical and the institutional variety. After all, transphobic attitudes and policies have a body count too.
The grandest change that must occur in order to protect transgendered women of color is on a structural level. Changing people’s minds about this community and emphasizing the importance of the problems facing trans women of color is a gradual process but it begins now if we continue to talk about these issues and prioritize appropriately. Explaining why it isn’t just about who uses what bathroom or what pronouns someone uses to friends and family is explicitly important, especially if the conversation reaches voting-aged adults. Electing politicians like former mayor of San Francisco Gavin Newsom or beloved former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders who will stand up for the LGBTQIA+ community almost seems like a distant dream, considering the aggressively discriminatory Republican administration in power, but increasing our political literacy and researching the candidate’s stances on issues we care about will help us make informed decisions about our leadership.
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