Friday marks the Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual memorial first started in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith. This year, a record number of transgender murders were documented, a depressing reminder of how rampant anti-trans violence is. However, the fact that such cases are being accurately reported and documented with greater frequency may also provide a glimmer of hope that change could be possible.
This past week, the FBI released its hate crime statistics for 2014. Though the overall number of reported hate crimes decreased to the lowest number since such reporting began in 1991, the number of violent crimes motivated by the victim’s gender identity tripled from the year before.
2013 was the first year that the FBI compiled statistics on bias-motivated incidents based on gender identity, in accordance with the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr., Hate Crimes Prevention Act of 2009. That year, 31 such incidents were reported, but in 2014 there were 98.
These numbers likely do not even begin to scratch the surface of hate-motivated violence in the country. Organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Human Rights Campaign (HRC) have pointed out that there are glaring gaps in the data. ADL highlighted the “deeply disturbing fact that more than 100 cities over 100,000 in population either affirmatively reported zero hate crimes or ignored the bureau’s request for their 2014 data.”
It wasn’t just a few cities that reported zero hate crimes — it was 89.2 percent of all law enforcement agencies that submitted their reports to the FBI. HRC called this result “highly unlikely,” noting that “at least 13 transgender women were murdered in the United States in 2014.” The LGBT rights organization also pointed out that even among the hate crimes reported, the numbers for transgender victims may still be underreported if they are “mischaracterized” as hate crimes based on sexual orientation or gender.
Data for Washington, D.C. provide a helpful juxtaposition. In 2014, the city reported a total of 70 hate crimes, 15 of which were motivated by the victim’s gender identity. This suggests that 15 percent of all the country’s anti-trans hate crimes in 2014 occurred in just one city. In contrast, there were zero such crimes reported in the entire commonwealth of Virginia. A recent survey found that D.C.’s transgender community certainly experiences high rates of discrimination, but it’s entirely unrealistic that the nation’s capital is unique in that regard.
Earlier this month, HRC issued a report in partnership with the Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC) detailing the anti-trans murders that have taken place in 2015. “At least 21 transgender people have been victims of fatal violence in the United States,” the report opens, “more killings of transgender people than any other year on record.”
TPOCC founder Klyar Broadus told ThinkProgress that the numbers are increasing because some local agencies are improving their reporting, but the progress is slow. “There are jurisdictions where we know there have been murders and they have no count. None, zero, zip.”
He believes the problem is twofold: law enforcement agencies need to be equipped with the cultural competence to actually identity the crimes as anti-trans and then some sort of incentive to actually count and report on the crimes. It can’t be just a one-time training either. “It has to be an ongoing and continued training for it to be effective for law enforcement,” he explained, “and there has to be commitment from local law enforcement to be trans-competent. They misgender and there’s not a lot of trust between trans people and the police.”
That distrust stems from the fact that trans people often experience violence at the hand of police. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found in 2013 that transgender people were seven times more likely to experience physical violence when interacting with the police compared to cisgender survivors and victims.
Broadus, who has defended many transgender people as an attorney, spoke of how “they treat trans people as a ‘thing’ or a ‘sideshow’ in the jail and don’t let them make their one call out.” Just this week, a federal judge in New York approved a transgender man’s suit to proceed against the New York City Police Department. When Justin Adkins was arrested for participating in an Occupy Wall Street protest in 2011, he was singled out for being transgender, handcuffed to a handrail for eight hours, and denied food.
Police aren’t the only problem, Broadus explained. “There’s systemic and structural oppression beyond just the police. We have to deal with the court system and educating the courts and the Bar, making sure attorneys are treating people right.”
This week, House lawmakers launched the first-ever Transgender Equality Task Force and held a forum to create more visibility for anti-trans violence. Broadus is optimistic that these “historic” efforts, along with the Transgender Day of Remembrance, will continue to grow and help raise awareness “that our lives are being taken and our lives are devalued every single day in every single way.”
“This is a wake-up call and a call to action for every single American to do their part. If you don’t know anything about trans people, learn something,” Broadus implored. “Then, go and find a trans person and get to know them and become their friend. The rest will grow from there.”
“We [trans people] change hearts and minds when people get to know us and more people know us than they realize. They work with us every single day, we’re members of their families, we’re next door neighbors. It’s time to treat trans people with respect and dignity.”
Transgender Day of Remembrance events will be held all over the country — and all around the world — Friday night.