Transgender Visibility Is at an All-Time High—and So Are Transgender Homicides
Tamara Dominguez was 36 years old when she was run over by a car repeatedly in Kansas City, Missouri. Keyshia Blige, 33, was shot while driving with a friend in a Chicago suburb. Ashton O’Hara, 25, and Amber Monroe, 20, were both found dead in a Detroit park within the span of weeks.
These are just some of the transgender women who were murdered in the U.S. in 2015, the deadliest year on record since advocates began tracking reported transgender homicides in 2006. The names and stories of those who were murdered this year are memorialized on the website of International Transgender Day of Remembrance, an event held in cities around the world every year on Nov. 20 to honor those who have lost their lives through transgender-related violence.
“I think it’s just coming to light more because it’s being reported more, it’s being covered more—trans people have always had difficult lives,” Marti Abernathey, a transgender activist who operates the grassroots website, told TakePart, highlighting the struggles particularly for transgender women of color. “I’m really glad that finally people are seeing that this is a crisis.” She believes the surge in transgender homicides this year isn’t necessarily related to an increase in violence, but rather to a boost in media reporting and cultural awareness.
Blige’s death near Chicago in March, for example, went unnoticed by many LGBT groups for months because local news reports misidentified her as a male. It wasn’t until August that a friend of Blige’s told The Guardian that she was a transgender woman—a performer who loved to sing. She’s one of at least 21 transgender Americans, mostly women of color, who have been murdered this year, according to a report published last week by Human Rights Campaign. The year that saw the most reported transgender homicide victims than any other in nearly a decade was also the year transgender visibility skyrocketed in mainstream media, from TV series starring Caitlyn Jenner and Jazz Jennings to feature films The Danish Girl and About Ray.
“At a time when transgender people are finally gaining visibility and activists are forcing our country to confront systemic violence against people of color, transgender women of color are facing an epidemic of violence that occurs at the intersection of racism, sexism, and transphobia—issues that advocates can no longer afford to address separately,” Human Rights Campaign president Chad Griffin said in a statement about the organization’s report, copublished with the Trans People of Color Coalition.
Their recommendations for reducing the risk of violence against transgender people include passing the Equality Act, which explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity; extending health care coverage for transgender people; and improving law enforcement training around interacting with transgender people and reporting hate crimes.
Friday’s day of remembrance comes just days after the congressional LGBT Equality Caucus announced the creation of a Transgender Task Force to address what it called an “epidemic of violence against the transgender community.” The initiative is spearheaded by Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., whose young granddaughter is transgender. The task force will announce its first meeting in the coming weeks, and Honda plans to introduce a resolution into the House of Representatives later this month to officially designate November as Transgender Acceptance Month.
International Transgender Day of Remembrance was first organized in 1999 by the LGBT activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith in response to the November 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a transgender woman of color who lived in Massachusetts. “[Smith]’s a San Francisco native who basically saw that there were trans people dying and basically not being recognized by their own families, by their own community,” said Abernathey. “You want to kind of look at it like a memorial or treat it as it would be like a funeral. It’s a day that we memorialize our fallen brothers and sisters.” The event has since spread to cities around the world, including Copenhagen, Tel Aviv, Rome, London, and Seoul.
“Everyone’s just coming to realize this is bad. Our community has been so invisible for so long,” Abernathey said. She said there were just three easy requirements to hold a vigil on Transgender Remembrance Day: “Basically, you need a list of names, people, and a voice—and I think that’s metaphorical and it’s literal. We have more of a voice, and people are starting to realize how badly our community is being treated.”