As more people begin to engage with social justice issues and protests take to the streets in record numbers, there is one issue I want to talk about. An issue which is still chronically underreported. The vitriol, violence and delegitimisation of transgender lives in everyday society.
Don’t get me wrong, awareness surrounding the injustices that trans people face is becoming a bigger issue in mainstream media. However, considering the fact that Australian transgender peoples are 11 times more likely to take their own lives than the general population, and US statistics show that one in 10 trans persons will experience some form of physical attack in the space of a year, it is still not enough.
Trans people are facing an epidemic and it is called transphobia. They are dying at alarming rates, and their human rights are being eroded right in front of our eyes.
Black Trans Lives Matter
The Black Lives Matter protests have become the largest civil rights movement in history. It has dominated social media and broadcast news for the past month, and it looks we might be finally making some progress (although I’m apprehensive). But there is one sector of the movement which has been largely ignored by mainstream media, despite it picking up a lot of momentum in the grassroots. Black Trans Lives Matter.
This movement is based on the fact that whilst all trans people are more susceptible to violence, trans POC are disproportionately effected. In fact, 69% of Native Americans trans persons reported experiencing unequal treatment, verbal harassment, and/or physical attacks for any reason in the past year. Similarly, 58% of Asian and Black trans persons reported the same.
Last week, the movement exploded when two black transgender women were killed in separate attacks in the space of 24 hours. These killings are estimated to be at least the 13th of 14th murder of a transperson in 2020. Not only this, but both women were misgendered and in some cases, dead-named in early police and media reports.
On the 8th of June, 27-year-old Dominique Rem’mie Fells’ was found dismembered in a river in southwest Philidephia.
Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs released a statement on Fells’ death:
“The pain of such a loss is always difficult, but it is especially deep as we are in the midst of Pride month—a season typically filled with joy and celebration for many in our community.
As thousands take to the streets to proclaim that Black Lives Matter, it is critical we remember that this includes Black trans lives. Dominique Rem’mie Fells’ life mattered.”
The next day, one state over in Ohio, 25-year-old Riah Milton was shot several times during an attempted robbery. Investigators have alleged that Riah Milton was lured by a 14-year-old girl and two men in an attempt to steal her car.
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*Another* Black trans woman was murdered and they have the guy in custody. To add insult to injury, media misgendered her. Enough is enough, already. #SayHerName … #RiahMilton ?Her biological sister is also a trans woman so please lift her and her family up.?? The link to the GoFundMe to give her a proper burial is in my insta stories—just swipe up.? . . . . . #Blm #blacklivesmatter #blacktranslivesmatter #trans #transgender #lgbtq #justice #stopkillingus #dominiqueremmiefells #blacktranswomen
Riah Milton’s sister made an emotive statement on twitter, and criticised the police and media response:
“Seeing the news completely dead-name and misgender my sister was like seeing someone just wipe her existence clean away”
In response to these killings, thousands gathered in Brooklyn for a Black Trans Lives Matter rally, as well as other cities across the United States. However, despite the protests, not much has actually changed. In fact, in the last few days, things have actually gotten worse
Trump’s war on Trans peoples
Late last week, despite national outcry, Trump finalised regulations which will reverse health protections for Transgender people. What this essentially means is that the Obama-era protections for Transgender Americans will be rolled back, so that transgender people are no longer protected from sex discrimination in health care.
While the Obama regulations defined gender as “a person’s internal sense of being male, female, neither or a combination”, this new policy will move to define “the government’s interpretation of sex discrimination according to the plain meaning of the word ‘sex’ as male or female and as determined by biology”.
The policy is a massive step in de-legitimising the existence of transgender people as it enforces the narrative that biological sex and gender identity are one and the same. In a practical sense, what this means is that healthcare providers and insurance companies that receive federal funding can refuse to provide or cover transition related care.
Considering that trans people are already 11 times more likely to commit suicide, who knows what damage this new policy will do. Not to mention the fact that it dangerously legitimises much of the rhetoric which demeans trans people.
However, this week will not go down in the history books as all bad, as the Supreme Court has made a giant step towards expanding transgender rights.
The historic ruling focused on employment discrimination, and found that you could not be discriminated against due to your gender identity. And while this may seem like only a small win for transgender rights, it could actually have far reaching consequences. Legal scholars are hopeful that the language used by the Supreme Courts could force expanded civil rights protections in education, health care, housing and other areas of daily life.
Considering the fact that the US Supreme Court is know for being pretty conservative (read: mostly white and male), this ruling is a big surprise. And hopefully speaks to a shift for transgender rights.
If you don’t know what a TERF is, you’re obviously not on twitter. The word TERF is an acronym used to describe Trans Exclusionary Radical Feminist. It is basically a faction of radical feminists who believe that trans-women are undermining womens rights. Crazy right?
But, they exist. I’ve never actually seen them in the wild, but they do crawl out of the woodwork every now and then to remind us that trans-women are just predatory men who want access to our bathrooms. It is a hateful rhetoric and it is based on zero meaningful data.
And while the bathroom debate may be over simplifying the agenda of TERF’s, it is a good example of how claims on the internet can actively harm the transgender community. Because studies show that Trans peoples are far more likely to experience violence in bathrooms than inflict it.
“Nondiscrimination laws do not allow men to go into women’s restrooms—period. The claim that allowing transgender people to use the facilities that match the gender they live every day allows men into women’s bathrooms or women into men’s is based either on a flawed understanding of what it means to be transgender or a misrepresentation of the law.
That is why … we oppose any law that would jeopardize the safety of transgender people by forcing them into restrooms that do not align with the gender they live every day.”
– A statement released in collaboration with more than 300 leading sexual assault and domestic violence prevention organisations
An Australian Issue too
While all these issues may seem a million miles away, they are not uniquely American. In fact, the Australian trans community has been struggling, as there does not appear to be an accurate database recording transphobic incited violence.
As of 2019, there were only two recorded homicides of Trans persons in Australia in the past decade. However researches believe that this is a dramatic under-representation of the true figure.
Dr Andy Kaladelfos, a UNSW Criminologist who specialises in crimes against the LGBTI community, explains:
“At the moment, all crime data is only recorded in male or female binaries,”
And while these classification may be in accordance with the wishes of the victims family, they are silencing the struggles experienced by trans men and women in Australia. Something that has happened for too long.
If you or anyone you know needs help:
- Lifeline on 13 11 14
- Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800
- Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467
- Beyond Blue on 1300 22 46 36
- Headspace on 1800 650 890
- ReachOut at au.reachout.com
- QLife on 1800 184 527
- Switchboard at switchboard.org.au
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