Homicide Remains a Pressing Threat for Transgender Americans

Maybe it’s my unwavering addiction to true crime podcasts, or perhaps it’s just my natural state of paranoia, but one of my biggest fears has always been getting murdered.

In spite of my crippling fear, as a white, cisgender woman, my chances of getting murdered are, relatively speaking, pretty slim. Other, more marginalized communities, however, are not so lucky.

Murder of transgender Americans, specifically, is on the rise. In 2018, the Human Rights Campaign released a report naming 2017 as the deadliest year for transgender Americans thus far. One transgender activist working with the Transgender Law Center in Oakland, California, told CNN in 2018 that she had attended a funeral for a friend every single year she had been involved in the transgender community. And while the 1-in-12 statistic often cited to indicate the chance of dying by homicide in the transgender community may not be accurate, it’s clear that violence among trans folks remains a pressing issue.

Homicide in the transgender community is especially pernicious for a few key reasons. One, while most murder victims, on average, are killed by people they know, many of the homicides in the transgender community are committed by “almost complete strangers.” According to the national press secretary for the Human Rights Campaign, Sarah McBride, this provides evidence that many homicides against transgender Americans are "hate based."

Additionally, most of the homicide victims in the transgender community are women of color. This, unfortunately, is not surprising – according to one report from the Prison Policy Initiative, homicide rates in general are highest for members of the African American, Native American, and Latinx communities.  Among the transgender community, however, homicide rates for people of color are especially staggering. 80% of the transgender murder victims in the homicide data from 2013-2017 analyzed by the Human Right’s Campaign were people of color. Further, CNN reports that high murder rates within the transgender community for transgender people of color has been a persistent trend for years.

And it’s not just homicide that has posed a pernicious threat to the transgender community. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the LGBTQ+ community is much more likely to face violence than any other marginalized group in the United States. In fact, LGBTQ+ persons are 41.5 times more likely to be the victims of hate crimes than whites.

On top high rates of hate crimes and homicides, when transgender folks are murdered, law enforcement and media often misgender them. Of the 28 transgender murder victims identified by CNN for 2017, the majority were misgendered by law enforcement. This is problematic on several levels. First, its disrespectful to the transgender victims who have already lost their lives; when they are misgendered in police reports, transgender victims also lose their identities. Additionally, in referring to transgender victims with names unrecognizable to their communities, both law enforcement and media make it more difficult for people to come forward with information in transgender murder cases. And collecting information in transgender murder cases is especially urgent – of the murder cases reported by the Human Rights Campaign in 2017, 18 remained unsolved in 2018.

Ultimately, murder of transgender folks continues to be a growing issue as we progress into 2019. With hate crimes on the rise for the past three years, violence against marginalized communities is now more important than ever before. Hopefully, communities can work together to raise awareness about violence against transgender folks and lower the rates of murder in trans communities in years to come.

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