Transphobic attacks are on the rise.
Last year was a devastating time for the transgender community. Nationwide, 44 trans people were killed in 2020, according to advocacy group Human Rights Campaign.
This year, there have already been 21 trans murders.
As many crimes go unreported or unclassified as a hate crime by law enforcement, the true number could be much higher.
PIX11 spoke with several transgender people who emotionally shared what it means to be a trans person in this country.
Serena Daniari is a journalist who lives in New York City.
“It’s evident each year the violence is getting worse and worse,” said Daniari. “It’s astounding to me that sometimes people sort of deny there’s this epidemic of violence against transgender people in this country, when it’s very plain.”
In January, 2020, Daniari was waiting on a subway platform when a man approached, yelled anti-transgender slurs, spat on and slapped her.
“Exiting your apartment as a trans person, as an openly trans person every day, means you know that you could face the threat of bodily harm,” said Daniari. “It’s a daily reality for me.”
Her attackers, a man and a woman – were arrested and charged with hate crimes. The man, Pablo Valle, did time in jail. Daniari say the woman Valle was with is awaiting a plea.
“Ever since that happened, I’ve been struggling with panic attacks, especially when I ride the subway,” said Daniari. “I was on the subway the other day and someone came up to me and tried to kick me and I was actually carrying my dog.”
The incidents have spurred her activism. The journalist now travels to speak to groups across the country. While what happened to her is horrific, she is one of the lucky ones: hers is a survivor’s story.
Statistics show trans people, in particular Black and Latina women, are the most at risk. Some of the high-profile cases that have garnered national attention have taken place in our area in the last several years.
Ashley Moore’s body was found near the Newark YMCA in April 2020. Her family says she was misgendered by police and her death has not been thoroughly investigated because she was trans.
Perhaps the case that first shed light on the hate and violence against trans people was the 1993 brutal murder of Brandon Teena, a young trans man; it was the subject of the critically acclaimed film “Boys Don’t Cry,” starring Hillary Swank as Teena. Nearly 30 years later, that same hate and violence persists.
TS Candii moved to New York City from Tennessee three years ago.
“When I came to New York, I was in my second shelter and when I walked outside, I was immediately stopped and frisked for simply standing outside,” said Candii.
Her story is like that of many other young trans people. They are drawn to large cities, hoping that in diverse metropolitan areas, they will find the acceptance they so crave. While to a certain degree, they find it, they are also quickly met with other challenges: job discrimination and housing discrimination, lack of access to social services, to name a few. All that is on top of the daily shunning.
“We face trauma and hurt and headache and harm at every turn and a lot of transgender women, they are murdered just because of who they are,” said Candii. “When it comes down to employment, a lot of individuals know the face or the image they want working for their particular organization or corporation, and it’s not a transgender woman.”
Candii started the Black Trans Nation advocacy group and has put her voice to fighting for the rights of trans people. Candii is also leading the efforts to have a permanent mural put up outside the Stonewall Inn. The mural will honor the Black Trans Lives Matter Movement.
“It’s very important for me to be on the front line,” said Candii. “Putting my face on the front line, advocating for Black and Brown transgender women, I don’t want the [trans] youth to go through what we’re going through.”
Trans people say they just want to be seen for who they are, and be recognized and respected, like any other human being.
“There’s this misconception that trans people are trying to draw attention to ourselves and make a scene, but we’re just trying to live our lives,” said Daniari.
Every Thursday evening, members of the New York City trans community gather. It’s a way to come together and express the issues they are all facing and how to go about effecting change. Qween Jean is one of the organizers.
“We believe in holding space once a week that is just for our community, not only to empower each other, but to learn,” said Qween Jean. “Unfortunately, a lot of it is around mourning, mourning a lot of our siblings who’ve been killed. In April alone, we lost seven transgender siblings, which is an atrocity, it is unbearable. How is it still people are being killed for their truth, for their identity?”
A sad fact is this: faced with few resources, many trans people turn to sex work for survival. It’s one of the many issues now being spoken about openly.
“We are in a state of emergency, transgender people, Black trans women in particular, are often at the receiving end of violence and that violence could be fatal. That violence means we are not allowed to work. That violence means some of us have to engage in survival sex work,” said Qween Jean.
The trans community feels time is of the essence. Currently, there is legislation nationwide that seeks to limit the rights of LGTBQ people.
Among them is a set of bills proposed in two dozen states that would ban transgender students from team sports unless they play for the team of the gender they were assigned at birth. Other legislation would bar trans access to restrooms. In Alabama, the State Senate has already passed legislation that makes it a felony for health professionals to provide hormone therapy or surgery to trans youth.
“What I want to specify about these bills are sure, they affect the community broadly, but who they’re more specifically targeting is our transgender children,” said Daniari.
There was a rare victory for the LGBTQ community Monday: a Trump-era policy that defined sex specifically as the gender assigned at birth was reversed. That policy effectively excluded transgender people from legal protection against sex discrimination in healthcare. The Biden administration now says it is against the law for health care providers who receive federal funding to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Daniari talked about the difficulties trans people face when seeking health care.
“When we do go, we’re being willfully misgendered, they’re being called the incorrect name, we’re asked invasive questions,” said Daniari.
Monday’s announcement is a hard-fought win for trans men and woman, who face daily struggles just for wanting to live their truth. It’s part of the continuing battle to break down long held prejudices.
“Trans people are thriving and doing amazing things across industries I really think we’re an unstoppable force,” said Daniari.
Trans people just want to be afforded the right to live openly, freely and safely.
“Transgender women are women,” adds Candii. “Why do we have to fight for our basic human rights?”