Get up-to-date news about our campaign to address hate crimes and violence against trans people by reading our blog with the tag “hate violence”!
Background and Context
According to some estimates, trans people face a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered. Between November 20th 2008 and November 12th 2009, 162 murders of trans people were documented and reported across the world. Given the inconsistency with which police and media record trans people’s identities, this number is likely much higher. The vast majority of known victims were trans women of color.
The District has an unfortunate history of violence against trans people, most recently illustrated by the 2009 brutal killing of 21-year-old Tyli’a “NaNa Boo” Mack and near-fatal stabbing of her friend in broad daylight, just a few blocks from the offices of Transgender Health Empowerment. The case remains unsolved, and has yet to be classified as a hate crime, in spite of information provided by the surviving attack victim that explicitly mentioned that they had been subjected to anti-trans harassment by their attacker while at a supermarket earlier that same day. In 2011, a trans woman named Lashai Mcclean was also murdered in DC. These are just two of the most recent examples of trans women lost to violence.
While District law includes gender identity-based crimes in its hate crimes provisions, law enforcement officials are not required to receive training in responding to hate crimes, and DC offers no restorative justice options when dealing with hate crimes cases. To truly address anti-trans hate violence, we must implement programs aimed at preventing violence – including violence caused by police – in the first place, rather than only responding to them after-the-fact. Additionally, we need strategies that center the needs of helping survivors heal from emotional trauma.
Our Approach to Anti-Hate Crimes Legislation
Many organizations attempt to deter hate crimes by calling for harsher penalties and increased prison sentencing for people who commit crimes motivated by bias. Within DCTC, we have a diverse range of opinions on whether this is effective, but we all agree that it is important to acknowledge the limitations and flaws of the criminal justice system as it is. As folks who have worked hard to reduce problems for trans people with police and in jail, we know jails themselves can be dangerous places for trans people. They also fuel vast racial and class inequalities. (In DC, for example, only 2% of our jail population is white.) So while it is exciting to see elected officials taking action to address the very real problem of hate violence targeting trans people, we hope that more people begin to have productive dialogs and think critically about strategies to address and prevent violence within our communities outside relying on police and jails alone.
Using harsher penalties for bias-motivated crimes alone cannot keep us safe. While recognizing that sometimes we need to use institutions like the police for our own safety, we need to think about ways to decrease our societies’ over-reliance on police and jails as the only solution to the question of violence. This over-reliance on incarceration disproportionately harms marginalized communities like trans people. Even as DCTC works hard to make sure we enforce policies that will keep people as safe as possible on the streets and in jail, we also want to find solutions that keep people from going to jail in the first place. Instead of focusing only on punishing people who have already committed violence against us, we hope that someday we might live in a world where we are put in unsafe situations less to begin with.
This means that we need to look at the institutional problems that place trans people at an increased risk of violence. For example, as the city cuts the budgets of programs like THE that help the most vulnerable and the police enact “tough on crime” policies like the Prostitution Free Zones, more and more trans people are going to wind up on the streets or in jail. In these places, trans people are far more likely to experience violent situations. This is why, in addition to calling attention to the instances of hate-motivated violence that are all-too-common, DCTC also fights to make sure jails, schools and homeless shelters place trans people where they feel safest from harm, or to keep funding for vital social services that help trans people stay safer while they are on the streets.
Our goal is to end all forms of violence, including both individual forms of violence motivated by transphobic bias, but also state-sanctioned, systemic forms of violence like the over-reliance on prison, the criminalization of sex workers, poverty and undocumented immigrants, the lack of mental health services for survivors of violence, and so on.
History of Our Campaign
Trans communities are faced with violence all of the time, and it is not only the kind that comes from bigots who follow us on the street. It can also come from the threat of homelessness and job loss, disproportional rates of poverty and HIV infection, bullying in schools, or denial of access to health care or public facilities like restrooms. Our strategies to end violence are diverse, including:
- preventing violence by educating those around us to make them aware that trans people are their friends, partners, family, co-workers and community members and that we deserve rights and protection just like they do
- supporting events such as the annual Trans Day of Remembrance, observed on November 20th each year to remember those individuals within the trans community who have been victims of violence, and to raise public awareness of hate crimes committed against trans individuals.
- empowering survivors of violence and their friends, family and communities to increase accountability and providing referrals to resources
- working to change laws and policies that place trans people in unsafe situations and thus higher risk for violence
- calling for mandated training for District agencies like MPD and the Department of Corrections which have a history of perpetrating violence against trans people
- fighting to preserve public funding for existing services for survivors of violence and vital organizations that help under-served trans people get out of precarious living situations that put them at higher risk for hate violence, and ensuring that these services are responsive to trans people’s specific situations
For other resources, we recommend visiting:
- Virginia Anti-Violence Project
- Communities United Against Violence (San Fransisco)
- Audre Lorde Project (NYC)