Death Sentence? The Public Perception of Transgender Women of Color
11 months ago
Persistence in murder rate indicates gross lack of public empathy for LGBT’s minority
If George W. Bush didn’t “care about black people,” then people generally don’t care about the lives of transgender women of color.
That’s not exactly the way writer and activist Janet Mock put it. She and others believe a rash of murders, as well as uneven media coverage, suggest a gross lack of empathy for gender non-conforming individuals.
Mock, a 29-year-old Hawaii native, was her parents’ firstborn son. She transitioned when she was a teenager and is aware of her privilege of not having her gender identity questioned by society.
It’s a privilege that isn’t a reality for many women like her, Mock acknowledges.
That premature death for transgender women may lurk around the corner, at the bus stop or in the presence of an intimate partner is an existence that hasn’t quite caught fire in the mainstream.
“Being trans should not equate to a death sentence,” Mock said in an interview with Loop 21.
But it’s hardly that simple. Mock knows that better than most, as an outspoken trans advocate. She says fighting for the rights and safety of transgender women of color requires a level of inclusiveness that many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates don’t yet have down to a science.
“It’s hard because trans women of color live in the intersection between two so-called oppressed groups,” Mock said. "We do fall in between the cracks of the resources that are available."
[ALSO READ: Report Shows Disparity in Minority LGBT Violence]
As a result, the high murder rate amongst transgender women of color seemingly flies under the radar.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an overwhelming majority of the transgender woman murdered last year were racial minorities. The overall murder rate of LGBT people rose 11 percent.
The coalition tracked the murders by monitoring reports from news outlets, which often err in properly identifying the desired gender marker of victims. The prevalence of such crimes can go unnoticed, if media professionals aren’t sympathetic to the idea that, in death, a transgender woman doesn’t switch back to male.
It's worth noting that the issues faced by the transgender community are far too complex to definitively state that transgender women of color are murdered because of their race and gender expression. Until recently, the federal government did not track the sexuality or gender identity of hate crime victims. Unless her murder is classified a hate crime, it's entirely possible that law enforcement agencies and media outlets will fail to acknowledge the gender expression of a transgender woman, whether she be the criminal or the victim.
Still, advocates believe the murders are preventable. Reducing the murder rate for these women is three pronged, says Mark Snyder of the California-based Transgender Law Center.
“When a transgender person has a safe place to sleep at night, and a good job, and adequate healthcare, then a person’s risk of being a victim of violence decreases,” Snyder said.
He also pointed to recent and promising advances – the inclusion of transgender people in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission protections and in the Prison Rape Elimination Act – for men and women, who struggle with an estimated unemployment rate double the national average and with transphobia in the criminal justice system.