So far, a trans woman or gender non-conforming person of color has been murdered in the United States every week of 2015. This week, the horrifying trend continued when 21-year-old Black trans woman Penny Proud of New Orleans was shot multiple times early in the morning of February 10. She joins fellow trans women of color Yazmin Vash Payne, Ty Underwood, Lamia Beard and Taja DeJesus and gender non-conforming person of color Lamar Edwards, all of whom were under the age of 35.
Trans people of color are not taking this sitting down. At the recent Creating Change conference in Denver, queer and trans people of color stormed the stage demanding to be heard, demanding that their lives be given respect and demanding that actual changes begin to take place. They chanted “Trans Lives Matter” and “Jessie! Presente!” before denouncing the conference for inviting Denver Mayor Michael Hancock to speak. (Police in Denver recently murdered 17-year-old queer Latina Jessie Hernandez.)
Before any large news outlets reported on Proud’s murder, the New Orleans LGBT youth of color group BreakOUT! put out a press release. They called out news channels and websites for contributing to the violence against trans women by misgendering the victims after they die.
These deaths had little to no mainstream media attention. The silence and lack of action from media on behalf of the Black transgender community sends a strong message that Black Trans Lives, in fact, do not matter. When these deaths were covered, they were often not given the respect they so deserve. Transgender women are often misgendered in news reports and their stories are often riddled with patronization and condescending opinions from reporters.
Not only does the media often underreport these murders or misgender the victims, but the police often fail to make an arrest or get a solid conviction. In the case of Underwood, police have arrested a suspect, Carlton Champion, Jr., who was dating Underwood. Despite the fact that Champion was “expecting sexual favors from Underwood that morning and found out she was transgender,” police are refusing to call this a hate crime, arguing that hate crimes cannot be perpetrated against a victim who is in a relationship with her attacker.
The fact that most of these violent crimes are perpetrated against trans women and gender non-conforming people of color, most of them Black, cannot be ignored when we talk about this problem. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence reports that almost 90% of LGBTQ homicide victims in 2013 were people of color, 72% were transgender women, and 67% were trans women of color. In 2014, twelve out of the fourteen trans women of color murdered in the United States were Black.
Trans women of color, like those from BreakOUT! and those at the Creating Change conference, want this to end right now and are letting others know exactly what needs to be done to make that happen. In their press release, BreakOUT! put out a call for action to the media, the police and to their communities, saying, “We are calling on the media to respect all transgender people and their families by using the correct pronouns and names for transgender victims and use current photographs to allow our community to maintain dignity both in life and in death.” They also demanded that trans women of color be made to feel safe in their own communities, adding, “Instead of more police, we need more investment in education, jobs, and housing for LGBTQ people, particularly Black transgender young women.” At Creating Change, Bamby Sacledo listed the protesters’ demands.
We’re here demanding intentional, meaningful investment in our community and in our community efforts to end this motherfucking epidemic. We are demanding funders and organizers, especially LGBT foundations and granters, to intentionally invest in the trans community… We demand meaningful equity of resources in order to eradicate our economic and health crisis that our brothers and sisters face daily. LGBT and ally organizations need to hire trans people in leadership and give us leadership positions within those organizations. We demand these organizations be intentionally inclusive in providing leadership opportunities for the trans community.
We need to start listening before we find out which trans woman of color is murdered next week.