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#SayTheirNames; Ending the Silence on America’s Quietest Crisis by Reilly Hirst

“There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.”

― Arundhati Roy

 

Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier lies dead on the ground with blood spilling from her wounds from the suspect, a regular client.  Her lips slightly parted and no longer able to form the words #metoo.  

The silence around transwomen’s, especially transwomen of color, murders is an epidemic.  A woman tells the press that Harvey Weinstein was inappropriate years ago and he loses his job and long time position in the industry.  It is hard to ignore the fact that she is white and cisgendered. The combination of those two factors underlines her words in a way that makes sure that they are heard. It is much easier to ignore the fact that Tarana Burke, who started the #metoo movement 10 years ago, was never initially listened to when uttering her truth nor credited with the movement that allowed the aforementioned accusers to speak theirs.

If the media does cover these stories, it treats the deaths like an isolated phenomena. Much like young black men who are killed by the police are treated: “they had it coming”,  “this is understandable”, “this isn’t a pattern”, “this isn’t about HATE”, “we have hate crime legislation, but somehow this doesn’t qualify”, “don’t worry, this isn’t a threat to your survival”. They normalize a pattern, an epidemic of violence so you don’t notice what has happened. It couldn’t be because she was LGBTQ, she was trans, she was a person of color, she was forced to do sex work, she was a victim of misogyny.

But the numbers demonstrate the lie.  There have been 26 murders of transwomen in the US that we know of in 2018; with two more actively followed for possible inclusion.  I say “we know of” because the victims are often misgendered, not reported, or the facts of the case downplayed or suppressed.  Over 80% were women of color.  Of 128 known victims over the last 5 years 21 or roughly 1 in 6 were killed by intimate partner violence. Internationally, the statistics are even more shocking.   Last year there were 369 murders reported across the globe as of the end of September, making it the highest year yet. However, those are just those we know, not only for the reasons cited above but the areas of the world that do not report at all.

To contrast this lack of response to what are clearly increasing numbers, think of the Amber alert we have now from just one girl’s tragic story.  Twenty eight predominantly transwomen of color in the United States and over three hundred around the globe and nothing has been done to change what happens on the national or international front.

Transwomen of color are the most vulnerable in our community.  They stand at the corner of misogyny, which is deadly, as evidenced by the reported instances of domestic violence and rape.  They stand at the corner of racism, which is deadly as we know from the number of young African-American men killed for simply wearing a hoodie, to say nothing of the numbers of black women killed while in police custody.  They stand at the corner of issues of sex work, poverty and unemployability, which is deadly as we know from the number of sex workers killed by johns. They stand at the corner of transphobia/homophobia which is deadly as we know from the number of those imprisoned or under death threats in Russia and across the world.

Mara Keisling, the National Center for Transgender Equality’s founder eloquently states the issue.

We live in a country where you are more susceptible to violence if you are a person of color, if you’re low income, if you’re a woman, if you’re an immigrant,” Keisling said. “And if you are all or most of those things at once — a young, black, low-income trans woman — you have a bigger bullseye on your back.

 

People of the transgender experience are a part of the living legacy of the LGBTQ+ community.  There is a more obvious recent history, such as their participation at Stonewall and in the riots that followed, but also, there is the historic trail through the millennia. Individuals who defied gender norms and embraced bold ambiguity have blazed a VISIBLE TRAIL that has allowed LGBTQ+ youth of today to own and understand their identities, to know that they are not alone and that love and hope are possible in their futures; even when those around them aren’t accepting.

Additionally, transwomen of color live in the heart of what has been the tragedy for all women.  Who can kill you? Will it be a stranger or your long term partner? One who has looked at you with love and longing or a stranger suddenly outed, whose rage or desire to hide suddenly leads to another violent death?

In terms of racism, not only are black women killed at even more staggering rates by police but also have greater recorded numbers of domestic violence perpetrated upon them.  African American females experience intimate partner violence at a rate 35% higher than white women.  In addition, the stigmatization of the LGBTQ+ members within some communities of color is considerably higher.  

Prejudice towards the trans community is not exclusively external. It sometimes feels as though the LGBTQ+ community operates as if all is well as marriage equality has occurred and health rights are now available to partners. So often though, that is a white, privileged, wealthy position. The number of transgender individuals still experiencing homelessness or lack of employability as purely a result of segregation or because the company didn’t want to pay for health benefits is high. Often transwomen find themselves in the sex trade for lack of other viable options.  Historically, the LGBTQ+ community has had a certain air of “don’t stand out”, “don’t look different”, or “don’t be too much” that can further isolate transmen and women. There has even been debate as to whether transgender people should be included as a part of the community. So despite Stonewall and other movements that they provided support for or lead the way in- our trans brothers and sisters are often left not receiving the same support that they provided. It is long overdue for us to shield and stand beside the most vulnerable in our communities.

 

So what you can do to create change? You can be the voice fighting and advocating for justice.  Represent the LGBTQ+ family in its entirety. Remember that all of our lives have been altered and empowered by trans people throughout history.  You can call and demand proper investigation from the police forces, reach out to media outlets to insist that they not misgender or ignore the transpeople that have been murdered. You can speak to your representatives at all levels of government about the urgency of this epidemic. You can support NYTAG (New York Transgender Advocacy Group) started by transwomen of color who are advocating for improvements as well as coordinating the march in Washington for trans rights in March. You can go to the march.  You can support GLAAD who is advocating for improved coverage and work at a national level. You can offer to walk your friend to their car, and be mindful of the very real transphobia, misogyny, and racism that the community faces every day…in bathrooms, in supermarkets, and even in their own homes.

You can remember their history, honor their humanity.  

You can say their names.

 

 

Jackson, S. (2018, November 20). 2018 on Trackto Become One of the Most Violent Years for Trans People. Retrieved from https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/national-international/2018-on-Track-to-Become-One-of-the-Most-Violent-Years-for-Trans-People-500943041.html

Human Rights Campaign Foundation. A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in America in 2018. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/resources/a-national-epidemic-fatal-anti-transgender-violence-in-america-in-2018.

AMBER=America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response and was named for 9 yr. old Amber Hagerman abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996.

Jackson, S. (2018, November 20). 2018 on Trackto Become One of the Most Violent Years for Trans People. Retrieved from https://www.nbcwashington.com/news/national-international/2018-on-Track-to-Become-One-of-the-Most-Violent-Years-for-Trans-People-500943041.html

WOMEN OF COLOR NETWORK. (2006, June). Domestic Violence: Communities of Color. Retrieved from https://www.doj.state.or.us/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/women_of_color_network_facts_ domestic_violence_2006.pdf

 

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