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U.S. violence against transgender community is the highest it's ever been

Students gathered on the steps of Wilson Library to attend a vigil honoring the lost and threatened lives in the transgender community on Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2015.
Students gathered on the steps of Wilson Library to attend a vigil honoring the lost and threatened lives in the transgender community on Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2015.

The transgender community experienced the highest level of fatal violence this year than ever recorded in the United States, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

By the end of November, 27 transgender people had been the victims of fatal attacks. This has been an increasing trend – from 21 deaths in 2015 and 23 in 2016. 

The LGBT Center of Raleigh held a vigil Nov. 20 for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. 

Rebecca Chapin, chairperson of the LGBT Center of Raleigh, said the vigil is a time for people to honor individuals who lost their lives for being part of the transgender community. 

Chapin said the upward trend in violence against the transgender community is due in part to an increased recognition of classifying such violence as a hate crime.

“Prior to the United States’ recent recognition of transgender violence as a hate crime, many of these murders were miscategorized as drag queens, gay men or butch lesbian women,” Chapin said. “Transgender people have also come into the mainstream media spotlight, so violence against the community is more in the public focus.”

Ames Simmons, director of transgender policy at Equality NC, said while increased visibility may partly cause this trend, the actual amount of violence is also likely increasing. The government’s actions toward the LGBTQ+ community plays a large role in the public perception of transgender and nonbinary people, he said.

“Casting trans people as predators in public restrooms has made violence toward trans people seem more acceptable than it was before that narrative was introduced,” Simmons said. “In general, the way our state and federal governments talk about all marginalized communities also adds to the risk of violence against trans and nonbinary people.”

The trend is likely to continue throughout the next few years, Chapin said. It’s unlikely the current administration will take the necessary steps to protect transgender people. 

Simmons said accurate reporting — by both the media and law enforcement — of the violence, gender identity and using a person's chosen name is an important step toward trying to bring numbers down. 

“Unfortunately, I don’t think we have a full sense of what violence is occurring and where,” Simmons said. “It’s very important that the public be made aware of what is happening so they can be moved to care about it.”

The next step is fixing the root causes of the violence transgender people are facing, Simmons said. Employment discrimination in North Carolina places the LGBTQ+ community at a disadvantage, making it more difficult to access other resources like secure housing and health care.

Chapin said there are a lot of ways to make local and individual spaces more inclusive for transgender and nonbinary people. Supporting transgender individuals on social media and paying attention to pronouns are two easy ways to promote gender diversity. 

“There’s a lot of things that need to change, and it can seem overwhelming as just one person,” Simmons said. “But that’s part of what makes this so compelling — there are any number of places that a person who cares about doing something to stop the violence can participate in a way that is meaningful to them.”


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