By Michelle Kim
November 20 marks the 20th annual International Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day memorializing those who have lost their lives to anti-trans violence. While local vigils are being held around the globe in order to mourn those lost, this day also serves as an opportunity to raise awareness around the factors that led to their deaths.
So far in 2019, at least 22 transgender and gender nonconforming people — the overwhelming majority of whom were Black trans women from the South — have been killed in the United States alone, according to a report published by the Human Rights Campaign on Monday. It marks the fifth year that over 20 trans individuals were slain in the U.S., causing activists to believe that these fatal hate crimes are on the rise due to a “hostile” political climate. Officials are convinced that these killings have become a national crisis, with the American Medical Association calling it an “epidemic of violence.” The problem is also a global one; the international research project Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide recently reported that 331 trans and gender-diverse people worldwide have been slain since early October 2018, with many other cases going unreported because of unreliable data collection and the fact that individuals may not be properly identified as trans or nonbinary.
Besides anti-trans stigma and easy access to guns, there are a variety of factors that contribute to the widespread violence against trans people, as the HRC report outlines. Trans people face discrimination in employment, obstruction of education, exclusion from health care, and barriers to legal identification. They also experience increased risk of sexual assault, poverty, and homelessness, which leads to extreme vulnerability. Black trans women are disproportionately affected by these risks because transphobia is exacerbated by racism and sexism.
Fighting the anti-trans violence epidemic will require both systemic change and individual action from everyone, cisgender or not, and true allyship from people of all stripes. We reached out to a number of community organizers to hear how anyone can take direct action to help, from volunteering at your own local orgs to simply educating others on trans issues.
LEARN THROUGH VOLUNTEERING
There are many ways to kill someone. You can deny them an education, and they won’t have the skills and tools to get a job. You can deny them job opportunities, and they will need to put themselves at risk to get food and basic needs to survive. You can deny them access to their community, and this person will be isolated, making them more vulnerable to violence. That might lead death of the spirit, as well as physical death. If you are a non-trans person who is shocked about the epidemic of murders against trans women (the majority of whom are trans women of color), learn about us and our challenges. If you want to learn from us, there are organizations around the U.S. who are struggling to continue operating. You can volunteer with them and engage in active listening and empathy. You can re-learn what we have been taught about gender, identity, and the binary world that we live in. Awareness shouldn’t be spread only on November 20th; awareness is a constant practice. Each killing is a reminder to continue working together and show our love and support to our trans siblings.
—Nicole Santamaria, Executive Director of El/La Para TransLatinas
CONTRIBUTE TO BLACK TRANS WOMENS’ EMERGENCY HOUSING FUNDS
In order to tackle this epidemic of violence, we have to specifically address who this is disproportionately affecting: trans women of color, and more specifically, Black trans women. One of the most tangible ways to provide material support is creating, donating to, or signal boosting emergency housing funds. Trans women of color experience homelessness at a higher rate than the general U.S. population and as such, the act of preventing eviction and repossession is one of the first steps to ending violence.
—Josa Alvarez, Gender Equity Organizer at Qlatinx
VET YOUR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
One crucial thing people can do in light of horrendous violence against TGNC people, specifically Black trans women, is actively participate in the 2020 election. The violence we are experiencing comes at the hands of every elected official, who has turned a blind eye to our deaths. They have no intention of decriminalizing trans people, but they seek to further penalize us for our own existence. Vet the candidates and ask questions of those candidates when we can’t or aren’t allowed to.
—Kayla Gore, Regional Organizer (Memphis, Tennessee) at TLC@SONG
Members of the National Trans Youth CouncilCourtesy of TRUTH program
INVEST IN YOUNG TRANS PEOPLE WITH TIME AND MONEY
As a movement and as individual people, we must invest in young trans and nonbinary people. Our liberation will be a result of everyone listening to our stories, trusting our decisions and expertise, and funneling direct resources for our basic needs and leadership development. If you want to keep young trans and nonbinary people alive and thriving, we all need to #showup4transyouth. Now.
EDUCATE YOUR FAITH LEADERS ABOUT TRANS RIGHTS
Our Jewish tradition teaches us that all people are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the Divine image. We are thus called to speak up against bias and violence that threatens the sacredness of human life, including the lives of trans women of color. As LGBTQ+ and allied Jews, we must bring this message of action to all our communities, including our synagogues. In today’s climate, faith traditions are often used as weapons and fuel for hatred against trans people. It is imperative for us to educate and empower our faith communities and leaders to speak out with the very clear message: trans rights are human rights. We must carry that unifying message to our policy makers and demand passage of legislation like the Equality Act and other state laws that prohibit discrimination.
—Mason Dunn, Director of Advocacy at Keshet
BE AN ACTIVE ALLY BY SPEAKING UP
I would recommend that people actively stand up for transgender people even if they don’t think they know any transgender people or if none are around when they hear an anti-trans comment. It is the duty of an ally to speak up, to stand up, and defend the integrity of transgender people everywhere. Complicity is a form of violence. In order to effectively fight against this dangerous epidemic that seeks to snuff out the livelihoods of transgender people, it is imperative we become active in the conversation surrounding the integrity and validity of a transgender person and their identity. Now is the time to be the most vocal advocate one can be in order to normalize and humanize the lived experiences of transgender people everywhere.
—Krystopher Stephens, Director at Arkansas Transgender Equity Collaborative
ELEVATE THE VISIBILITY OF TRANS PEOPLE
Harvey Milk’s advice to LGB folks back in the ’70s was to “come out.” LGB visibility was so important for people to realize that they knew someone who was LGB. Coming out or supporting a gay person by acknowledging them was a huge step and, for many, a huge risk back then. But it “normalized” gay people. Similarly, the visibility of trans and gender diverse people needs to be elevated. Speaking out when one hears an uninformed comment goes a long way. But do be gentle. Meeting people where they are in their understanding is also very important. Many of us working in the trans communities can have fatigue; sometimes I want to scream, “Trans Rights are Human Rights!” And yet, I have discovered that a well-placed and thoughtful comment goes much farther.
—Kristin Wilson-Key, Parent Program Specialist at Gender Diversity
SPREAD AWARENESS IN REAL LIFE, NOT JUST ON SOCIAL MEDIA
The best direct action any community member can take is to educate themselves and others properly about holding space for trans folk. We need reliable access to jobs, education, and housing. The most powerful direct action any community member can do is to use their privilege and spread proper knowledge. Let’s face it, it isn’t to hard to hide in a large crowd, tag yourself in a few photos, and call it a day. But it is extremely hard to stand up for trans folks at the dinner table. No, it isn’t as glamorous as trending on Instagram or Twitter, but it is more meaningful and necessary.
—Carter, Member at BreakOUT!
Responses have been condensed and edited for clarity.