In 128 cities in 17 countries last week, people gathered to remember transgender victims of violence. This year alone, more than 160 transgender people have been murdered—and that’s just the ones we know of. Because of a lack of understanding of gender identity issues, it is nearly impossible for organizations such as Transgender Europe to track down all actual cases of violence against trans people, or to determine whether they are all hate crimes, but the brutality involved in many of them implies that they are.
Barack Obama recently signed into law the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which includes gender identity in its protections, and Kalamazoo, Michigan passed a trans-inclusive law that bans discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodation. But a national employment non-discrimination act still lags behind, and the hate crimes bill was too late for 21-year-old Tyli’a Mack, stabbed in the streets of Washington, D.C. not far from the offices of Transgender Health Empowerment, an advocacy organization, and Paulina Ibarra, 24, stabbed to death in her Hollywood apartment.
Too often transgender people only turn up in the media as victims of violence, misgendered and wrongly portrayed as gay or lesbian, and discussions of gender identity, like the one around South African runner Caster Semenya, are dehumanizing and offensive. Transgender people too are often thrown under the bus in legislative compromises, like the last round of debate over ENDA. Though the health care bill that passed the House mentions that gender identity is a factor in people experiencing “significant gaps in disease, health outcomes, or access to health care,” that on its own will do little to ensure better care.
Tobi Hill-Meyer of the blog No Designation writes “Traditionally defined as a person who doesn’t identify with the gender they were assigned at birth, I prefer to shift the focus away from assigned gender and define transgender as a person whose gender is not universally considered valid.”
We have all had moments where our very identity is called into question by another, when someone assumes that they know better than we do who we are. It is important to remember those who have been victims of violence, but we need to also remember the lives of transgender men and women, and not pay attention only when another murder makes headlines.
The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.