by Alexandra Siebenhaar
According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 27 transgender and gender non-conforming people were killed in 2019.[i] This year, at least 16 transgender and gender non-binary people were killed, with the majority consisting of Black transgender women in both years.[ii] The names of the transgender and gender-non binary who lost their lives due to violence are Dustin Parker, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, Yampi Méndez Arocho, Monika Diamond, Lexi, Johanna Metzger, Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, Layla Pelaez Sánchez, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Nina Pop, Helle Jae O’Regan, Tony McDade, Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, Riah Milton, Jayne Thompson, Selena Reyes-Hernandez.[iii] With the racial injustices we are witnessing — from the COVID-19 pandemic to police brutality and transphobic politicians in office — we need to include Black Trans women in our discourse if we want to tear down our current system. Pride Month is more than just #LoveIsLove. #BlackTransLivesMatter will carry weight once the following actions are taken.
End the Eurocentric History of the LGBTQ+ Community
Even with the Stonewall Riots becoming more prevalent in the media, many may not be aware of the years transgender people spent fighting gender oppression before 1969. Similar to the Stonewall Riots, the Compton Cafeteria Riot of 1966 happened in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, home to many transgender women who occupy sex work and who couldn’t secure housing elsewhere.[iv] After managers at the 24-hour Compton Cafeteria continued calling the police about a group of drag queens, a riot broke out in the streets.[v] The riot was caused by police brutality but resulted in a positive change for San Francisco’s transgender community.[vi] After the Stonewall Riots in New York’s Greenwich Village, the division between white privileged gay men and Black or brown transgender people began to form.[vii] Black and brown transgender folks have long been marginalized in the LGBTQ+ community and to move forward, we must acknowledge their existence in history. From the riots to the phrases born out of Drag Balls and adapted by pop culture, educators must teach LGBTQ+ history.
According to the 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report, 78% of youth have not come out to their parents because their families make negative comments about LGBTQ+ people.[viii] They may also fear not being accepted or forced to move out of their homes. Statistically, one in five transgender people have experienced homelessness[ix] and many may experience discrimination in homeless shelters. There must be legislation prohibiting discrimination in homeless shelters and requiring respect for one’s gender identity. Similarly, transgender folks face discrimination when becoming a homeowner, as one in five transgender people have been discriminated against when seeking a home. More than one in ten have been evicted from their homes.[x] The Fair Housing Act needs to be more specific in addressing housing discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation, rather than just preventing sex discrimination.
End Workplace Discrimination
Thankfully, the Supreme Court ruled employers can’t discriminate against someone based on both their sexual orientations and gender identity. However, there is a lot more work we must do, including passing the Equality Act. The Equality Act would protect people on the basis of their sexual orientation and gender identity, not just their sex. If ratified, this act would protect one in “employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service.”[xi] Although the act should be passed, we must understand legal change does not mean social change — social change will be achieved through creating an inclusive education for all people that eliminates racism, homophobia, and transphobia. More than 75% of transgender people have experienced workplace discrimination and,[xii] just earlier this month, transgender people could now lose their job due to bigotry. Because they are discriminated against when entering the workforce, many transgender women become sex workers as a matter of survival.
Decriminalize Sex Work
Sex work is a real job and sex workers deserve to have their rights protected. With sex work being criminalized, Black transgender women often face both police brutality and jailtime. Sex work is consensual sex; keeping it criminalized will not protect transgender folks from sexual violence.[xiii] If sex work was decriminalized, sex workers will be allowed to report crimes. It will be easier to negotiate condom use, increase the use of condoms, and diminish discrimination when accessing healthcare services (like HIV prevention and treatment).[xiv] In the Tenderloin district, when police arrested transgender women, their heads would often be shaved and they would be placed in a men’s jail, despite their preferred gender identity.[xv] By decriminalizing sex work and advancing societal acknowledgment of it a real job, we can respect sex workers, resulting in less harassment, misogyny, and bigotry.
Many transgender people experience physical and sexual violence from the police. For this reason, transgender folks may be afraid to ask police officers for help. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, 57% of respondents have reported this to be true.[xvi] 30% of respondents were physically and sexually assaulted by faculty staff and/or another inmate, while 37% were prevented from undergoing hormone replacement therapy in prison.[xvii] Transgender folks should not be in prison for their mere existence or even for being employed through sex work. We need more community resources, we need to respect the existence of transgender people, and we need prison reform. For now, defunding the police to better the lives of the historically disenfranchised is a start; however, it still keeps our current legal system in place.
When discussing universal healthcare, we must include the transgender community and the healthcare services that pertain specifically to them. We need to give them the right to freely obtain gender-affirming care (like puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy) and transitional surgeries without treating the desire as a mental illness. These procedures are very expensive and are not considered essential surgeries by many insurance companies. Most transgender folk and gender non-binary people (70%) experience discrimination when accessing healthcare and many may not go see a doctor for this reason.[xviii] For us to secure healthcare for all, we must include transgender and gender non-binary folk when designing our healthcare system.
[i] “Violence Against the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming Community in 2020,” Human Rights Campaign, 2020.
[iv] Susan Stryker. “An Introduction to Transgender Terms and Concepts,” Transgender History. Seal Press, 2008.
[viii] 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report,” Human Rights Campaign, 2020.
[ix] “Housing & Homelessness,” National Center for Transgender Equality, 2020.
[xi] “The Equality Act,” Human Rights Campaign, 2020.
[xii] “Employment,” National Center for Transgender Equality, 2020.
[xviii] Morrow, Nick. “HRC To Sue Trump Administration for Eliminating Anti-Discrimination Health Care Protections,” Human Rights Campaign, (June 12, 2020). 2020.