The Human Rights Campaign has been tracking transgender homicides since 2013. This year is worse than all of them so far.
At least four transgender people have been murdered in the past week, including at least three Black transgender women, bringing the HRC’s yearly count to 21 — nearly matching 2019’s total of 27.
The organization has “never seen such a high number at this point in the year,” and other advocates across the U.S. are horrified by the “rampant and repeated” murders.
Bree Black, a 27-year-old Black transgender woman, was found fatally shot July 3 in Pompano Beach, Florida. Summer Taylor, a 24-year-old white non-binary person, was fatally struck by a vehicle July 4 while they were participating the Black Femme March in Seattle.
Merci Mack, a 22-year-old Black transgender woman, was found fatally shot June 30 in Dallas. The next day, 32-year-old Black transgender woman Shakie Peters was killed in Amite City, Louisiana.
The deaths of two other Black transgender women, one in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and another in Philadelphia, remain under investigation, according to advocacy groups.
“It is ridiculous that we have to continue to hashtag our friends’ names and add them to a list of names to be memorialized every year, and that we expect it,” Carter Brown, executive director of National Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, told USA TODAY.
He added, “We expect it because too many trans women of color are continuously being murdered and beaten with minimum or no consequence being brought to the assailants.”
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People of color and transgender people are most often victims of hate violence, according to a 2017 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. In 2017, 71% of victims were people of color, 52% were transgender and 40% were transgender women of color.
But the number could be much higher as few transgender people report such incidents, Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told USA TODAY last month, because of “a combination of stigmatization, marginalization and criminalization.”
That anti-transgender stigma, especially transphobia towards Black transgender women, has roots in systemic racism and anti-transgender legislation, Brown said.
“The end result is Black trans people are denied access and protections within the justice system, housing system, healthcare system and employment,” he said.
According to the 2017 U.S. Trans Survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality, 30% of the more than 27,000 transgender people surveyed had been homeless in their lives and 12% reported at least one episode of homelessness in the last year.
Dr. Laurel Westbrook, an associate professor of sociology at Grand Valley State University in Michigan, told USA TODAY that lack of access to housing can increase the risk of transgender murders, since poverty and murder are highly correlated.
They added that discrimination is decreased when family, friends, community members, journalists, and politicians show support for transgender people.
“Historically, transgender people have been portrayed as monstrous villains,” Westbrook said. “We need to highlight the joy in transgender lives and celebrate transgender people. Too often, one only sees a transgender person in the news when they have been murdered.”
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Dr. Rebecca Stotzer, a professor at University of Hawaii School of Social Work, told USA TODAY that although anti-transgender stigma does lead to transgender killings, the increase in homicides may be due in part to an increase in reporting by law enforcement to the federal government.
While the federal government created bias crimes as a reporting category in 1992, sexual orientation and gender identity hate crimes began to be investigated only in 2009.
Since then, reported crimes motivated by bias against transgender people have increased, and Stotzer believes “we’re going to see the numbers consistently going up for the foreseeable future.”
Still, Westbrook said, homicides against transgender people are “an important issue that deserves attention — no matter whether rates appear to be increasing or decreasing.”