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The Epidemic of Violence Against Transgender Americans

When you think about Pride Month, what comes to mind? Rainbow boas, concerts, and parades? All of these are familiar parts of celebrating the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) community. However, it is also vital to remember the roots of Pride Month: activism and awareness. This week, we are highlight an issue that is often overlooked: the extraordinary levels of physical and sexual violence that transgender people face in the United States.

To start, some definitions may be helpful. Transgender is a term used to describe those who do not identify or exclusively identify with their sex identified at birth. The term does not indicate gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how a person is perceived in daily life. Cisgender is a term used to describe those who exclusively identify with their sex assigned at birth. The term does not indicate gender expression, sexual orientation, hormonal makeup, physical anatomy, or how a person is perceived in daily life.

Across the country, transgender men and women experience violence at an exceptionally high rate. More than 1 in 4 transgender people has experienced a bias-driven assault. Transgender people are more likely to experience violence from government authorities, including law enforcement. According to a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), transgender people are 7 times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police, as compared to cisgender people. Transgender women are 1.8 times more likely to experience sexual violence than cisgender people, and then to face police violence, discrimination, harassment, threats and intimidation.

So far in 2018, 13 transgender people, primarily women, have been murdered. Many of those killed were women of color, and were brutally murdered in hate crimes against transgender people. In 2017, 27 transgender people were killed in the United States. 22 of the victims were women of color. According to the NCAVP, in 2013, the majority of victims of hate violence homicides were transgender women (72%). 67% of these victims were trans women of color.

We know that transgender people experience exceptionally high rates of violence, particularly when compared to cisgender people. But what drives this violence — and how can we change it? While pinpointing an exact cause can be difficult, it likely stems from the severe discrimination, stigma and lack of legal protection that transgender people in the United States face.

The lack of legal protection is a major factor in anti-transgender violence. Unlike many other groups, transgender people are not protected in most states’ non-discrimination laws. In some states, laws have been enacted that bar transgender people from public bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. Without legal protection, it may be difficult to obtain identity documents, complete an education, hold a job, or even obtain appropriate healthcare.

It also can have an impact on the ability to report crimes and seek help from the police. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 22% of transgender people who had interacted with police reported bias-based harassment from police, with transgender people of color reporting higher rates. 20% stated that they were denied equal services by the police, while 6% said that they were physically assaulted and 2% reported sexual assault by the police. Almost half of the transgender people surveyed said that they were uncomfortable going to the police for help.

Much of this goes back to the stigma that is still prevalent in our society. While gay, lesbian and bisexual people have achieved more acceptance in the United States, transgender people are often targeted for harassment based on false, outdated views. Prejudice against transgender people often combines with homophobia and at times, racism, to lead to violence and abuse.

What can we do about the epidemic of violence against transgender people in the United States? We can start by raising awareness about this issue— and on acceptance of transgender people. Erasing the stigma is crucial to ending the violence, and is necessary to achieving true equality for all. So challenge friends, family, and coworkers who make transphobic jokes or comments, and make sure that trans friends and family know that they are welcome. You can also advocate for legal protections, such as non-discrimination laws that include sexual identity. By taking these steps, we can work to make our society safer for everyone.

At Blackburn Center, we offer services to ALL victims of violence, including transgender people. Contact us anytime at 1-888-832-2272 or 724-836-1122 to speak to someone today.

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