Beyond the Headlines: Preventing and Addressing Violence Against Transgender Women

By Julie M. Koch, PhD (Oklahoma State University) & Chloe Goldbach (Southern Illinois University-Carbondale)

In 2019, we have not gone more than a month without seeing headlines like these:

October 17: Black Transgender Woman Brianna BB Hill Killed in Kansas City

October 9: Black Transgender Woman Itali Marlowe Killed in Houston

September 9: Black Transgender Woman Bee Love Slater Killed in Florida

September 6: Black Transgender Teen Bailey Reeves Killed in Maryland

August 8: Black Transgender Woman Pebbles LaDime Doe Killed in South Carolina

All too often, we read these headlines: another transgender woman of color has been murdered. To date, in 2019, at least 19 transgender women and two additional transgender/gender-diverse people have been killed as targets of anti-transgender violence. By the time this article is published, that number might be higher. In 2018, at least 26 deaths of transgender women were reported, most of whom were Black transgender women. The American Medical Association and the Human Rights Campaign have rightly referred to this as an “epidemic” (American Medical Association, 2019; Human Rights Campaign, 2018; Rojas & Swales, 2019).

We don’t know what the true number of murders of transgender women is as often these crimes go unreported or the victims are misgendered. There are a number of problems with data collection. The FBI, for example, estimated about 7,500 LGBT-related hate crimes in 2018 while the National Crime Victimization Survey estimated that number at closer to 200,000 (Hauck, 2019). The FBI began collecting data on hate crimes targeting gender identity in 2013, but they do not break down reports on offenses of gender identity bias down by gender identity and race (Federal Bureau of Investigations, 2019).

Even if taken at face value, however, the rates of murder and hate crimes are disturbing. One of the authors of this article has a client who says she “won’t open her mouth to say anything” if she goes to a gas station, convenience store, or other place where she doesn’t feel 100% comfortable because “she knows she can pass, but her voice would give her away.” One of the authors, identifying as a transgender woman, knows all too well the fears of discrimination and violence and the anxiety of entering so many spaces in society. These fears and anxieties are not only bolstered by a seemingly endless barrage of terrible stories in the media, but also result from countless personal experiences of prejudice and discrimination. The reports of violence and lived experiences, along with the sociopolitical climate and the federal government’s policy toward transgender people (Hurley, 2019; Levenson, 2018), justifiably make transgender people fear for their safety daily.

With all of this in mind, what can friends, advocates, and allies do to prevent or reduce violence against transgender people, especially transgender women of color? One way is to participate in the international Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) on November 20. TDOR has been observed since 1999 to recognize and remember transgender people who have been killed through anti-transgender violence. TDOR is often observed through locally-organized vigils, and is proceeded by Transgender Awareness Week. We encourage you to check out the resources about TDOR at the end of this article and look for a TDOR event in your city or town or even organize one on your own.

Here are some other ways you can advocate for a safer society for transgender people, especially transgender women of color:

  • Support policies that penalize discrimination related to education, housing, workplace, the military, physical healthcare, mental healthcare, family planning, public facilities, and any places of public accommodation.
  • Call your political representatives and be sure to vote for transgender-inclusive policies and candidates.
  • Advocate for better data collection and reporting of violence and hate crimes against transgender people.
  • Advocate for educating and holding the media accountable for accurate and sensitive representation of transgender people.
  • Share stories and statistics that highlight the prejudice, discrimination, and violence that transgender people face, but also share positive stories about transgender lives and experiences.
  • Advocate for better training of law enforcement related to their interactions with transgender people, including the importance of treating all people with respect, using appropriate names and pronouns, and not misgendering victims or witnesses.
  • Familiarize yourself with transgender-friendly resources in your community and serve as a referral source
  • Volunteer for local, state-wide, and/or national organizations that support transgender people.
  • Educate friends, family, coworkers, classmates, etc. on the importance of using the correct name and pronouns for transgender people. Don’t leave the physical and emotional burden of educating to transgender people.
  • Reach out to the transgender people in your life. Let them know that they matter to you and that you support them.
  • Call out and educate people who engage in behavior or practices that are discriminatory toward transgender people. You never know when a transgender person might be around and the simple act of speaking of up can create a sense of safety, even if only momentarily.
  • Continue to educate yourself on transgender issues, identities, and resources. Realize that you don’t have to understand a transgender person’s identity or experience to be supportive and empathetic. GLAAD’s Tips for Allies of Transgender People is a good place to start (https://www.glaad.org/transgender/allies).
  • Safety is paramount. Don’t ever out a transgender person without their explicit permission.
  • Donate to an organization that supports transgender rights. Some organizations you can donate to include:

Although the headlines can be staggering, there is much that we can all do to promote the health, wellness, and safety of transgender people in our communities. We hope that working together, we can reduce violence and promote a society in which transgender people are not just “accepted,” but viewed as an essential, valued, integral part of our diverse world.

Resources for more information on the Transgender Day of Remembrance:

American Psychological Association: https://www.apa.org/pi/lgbt/resources/transgender-day

Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation: https://www.glaad.org/tdor

Human Rights Campaign: https://www.hrc.org/campaigns/transgender-day-remembrance

References:

American Medical Association (2019, June 10). AMA takes action to help prevent anti-transgender violence. AMA Press Releases. Retrieved from https://www.ama-assn.org/press-center/press-releases/ama-adopts-new-policies-first-day-voting-2019-annual-meeting

Federal Bureau of Investigation (2019). Hate crime statistics, 2018. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from: https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2018/resource-pages/hate-crime-summary

Hauck, G. (2019, June 28). Anti-LGBT hate crimes are rising, the FBI says. But it gets worse. USA Today. Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2019/06/28/anti-gay-hate-crimes-rise-fbi-says-and-they-likely-undercount/1582614001/

Human Rights Campaign (2018). A national epidemic: Fatal anti-transgender violence in American in 2018. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/resources/a-national-epidemic-fatal-anti-transgender-violence-in-america-in-2018

Hurley, L. (2019, October 6). Gay, transgender rights in spotlight at U.S. Supreme Court returns. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-court-lgbt/gay-transgender-rights-in-spotlight-as-u-s-supreme-court-returns-idUSKCN1WL07F

Levenson, E. (2018, October 22). All the ways the Trump administration has rolled back protections for transgender people. CNN Politics. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/22/politics/transgender-trump-protection-rollback-trnd/index.html

Rojas, R., & Swales, V. (2019, September 27). 18 transgender killings this year raise fears of an ‘epidemic.’ The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/27/us/transgender-women-deaths.html

Biographies:

Dr. Julie M. Koch (she/her/hers) is Professor and Head of the School of Community Health Sciences, Counseling and Counseling Psychology at Oklahoma State University. She is a licensed psychologist in the State of Oklahoma and has a small private practice. Her research interests include diversity and multicultural issues in counseling; international and transnational work related to LGBTQ+ issues; and faculty multicultural competence. She serves on the APA Committee on Women in Psychology and is a representative to the International Psychologist Network for LGBT Issues. She received a Fulbright Specialist Grant for work with the LGBT Centre in Mongolia and is a recipient of the OSU Regents Distinguished Teaching Award.

Chloe Goldbach (she/her/hers), MS, is a second-year PhD student in counseling psychology at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. She holds a BA in psychology, BS in mechanical engineering, and MS in biomedical engineering, all from the University of Florida. Chloe conducts research in transgender-affirmative mental health care, LGBTQ+ relationships, de-stigmatization of transgender bodies, and assessing the contribution of interpersonal and systemic factors to gender dysphoria. She previously taught Introduction to Sexual Diversity Studies and Workplace Diversity and is the recipient of the 2019 Welcoming Project graduate scholarship for LGBTQ+ activism and the SIUC Master’s Fellowship for the 2019-2020 academic year.

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