Three Black transgender women were brutally murdered on the last weekend of February. Their names were Chyna Dupree, Ciara McElveen and Jaquarrius Holland. TGI Justice Project is deeply saddened to witness such a great community loss and, like many, we have been grieving this tremendous loss.
Thus far in 2017, at least seven trans women of color have been murdered in the United States. Last year at this time, there were at least five murders of transgender people, a number which increased to 27 (that were reported) by the end of 2016.
To make matters worse, the Trump administration is taking away life-saving protections for transgender children and their families, creating an environment ripe for shaming, bullying, hate crimes, and suicide. It is no coincidence that these events have occurred simultaneously—in fact, these events speak to the heart-wrenching realities of violence that transgender people face every day.
While we at TGIJP have long advocated for transgender, gender nonconforming, and intersex people to be affirmed exactly as we are, this year, like every year before it, began with the devastating reminder that we have a long way to go to get there.
Attacks on Black transgender people are occurring interpersonally and systemically through violent transphobia in government, at church, and in our own homes. The refusal of many to have honest conversations about why Black transgender women are killed with impunity only emboldens the people who kill us.
Transphobia is as deeply rooted in our society as it is dangerous. It exists in all of us, because in America that is how we are socialized – to adhere to a prescriptive set of traditional gender identities and conservative values that leave little room for freedom of choice or individuality. Eliminating transphobia, and stopping the violence perpetuated against Black trans women in particular, requires each of us to be daring enough to reflect on how we have all contributed to it, and to be mindful of how we have, whether we are aware of it or not, given rise to an environment in which transgender people are in danger doing everyday activities like walking down the street, going to work, or having a cup of coffee. It requires educators to begin teaching lessons on the history of transgender people, for legislators to take seriously their job to protect every single person they claim to represent, and for everyday people to intervene when witnessing violence against trans people.
Ultimately, ending violence against trans people requires those who are not transgender to listen to and respect the needs of transgender people, and for each of us to unearth in ourselves a lifelong commitment to advocating on behalf of each other.
In Black communities, we’ve raised awareness about the pervasiveness of gender-based violence and the impact that violence has on everyone involved. However, violence against and the murdering of Black transgender women at the hands of Black men who are not transgender goes unchecked by everyone. Our communities have begun to address violence against Black women who are not transgender, but this has not been extended to Black transgender women, and we should be asking ourselves why.
The fight for civil rights for Black people is alive and strong. Many of the tools we need to abolish anti-Black transphobia exist within that fight, and we are the ones to do it. We have always demanded to not be treated prejudicially because of who we are and what we look like. Now, Black people have a responsibility to hold people who are transphobic in our communities accountable for their discrimination.
We can do this by critically examining the values at the core of people’s bigotry, and by having courageous conversations with those who are closest to us about where they learn to be transphobic. These are ways in which we can start to confront the transphobia in ourselves and, even more importantly, commit to eliminating it. We must uphold and take seriously the collective responsibility of every person to learn about, understand, and realize the full range of human rights that transgender people are due.
This is most important because Black transgender people, who live at the dangerous intersection of gender-based violence and anti-Blackness, are the fulcrum of the success of anti-discrimination protections – if Black trans women are not safe, none of us are safe. For transphobia to be abolished, every individual person has a role to play. At the center of all this is acknowledging the long-standing system that allows people with male privilege to exercise tremendous violence against those without that privilege – in other words, patriarchy.
Our communities are on constant defense from the daily harassment, violence and abuse they face and are eager to find ways to stay safe and to stay alive. People without this experience can’t imagine what it’s like to worry incessantly if the people you’re in relationship or community with want to do you harm. When you are facing real physical and mental violence from everyone around you - from strangers to doctors, legislators to social workers - life becomes about basic survival, and living a fulfilling life becomes impossible. To add insult to injury, there are no protections at the state or federal level for Black transgender women acting in self-defense to protect ourselves. But while the system was not designed to protect us, we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we deserve to live and to be affirmed.
The mandate for Black people and everyone now is to transform ourselves and our conditions by both confronting state violence and confronting every day, gender-based and transphobic violence against Black trans women. We ask that you join us in this commitment to keeping Black trans women and trans women of color safe; we ask that you offer up everything you can in this moment as an ally, as a comrade, and as our family. Ask yourselves what little steps you can take to intervene on transphobia as a daily practice. We encourage you to start working on the local and regional level--find organizations in your area like BreakOUT!, El/La Para Translatinas, Solutions Not Punishment Coalition (SnapCo), or Audre Lorde Project that directly invest in and center the leadership of transgender and gender non-conforming people of color. Donate your time, energy and money into these local efforts and find ways to be in meaningful relationship with them. Creating a culture of safety is much larger than the task to “stop killing Black trans women;” what we are suggesting instead is the possibility that we can all prevent and intervene against this violence daily. If you have an extra room to offer up to someone in need, if you have a meal to spare, or if you can walk with someone and make sure they get home safely--these are all ways we can begin to create a culture of safety among one another. Remember that this work begins and ends with each of us individually. And, we are all uniquely a part of a stronger collective community, which, when strong at the foundation, can make great shifts systematically toward solidifying the world we truly want to see.
With love from,
Janetta Johnson and the TGIJP family
Be safe and stay strong!