By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
You’ve heard me talk about it before, and it’s just as likely that if you did not hear it from me, you heard it from others. Anti-transgender violence, particularly murder, is an epidemic.
It is hardly new news, as these murders happen on average every two weeks. The crimes are horrible, often beyond barbaric and — more often than not — those who commit them do not serve a prison sentence worthy of the crime they committed, if they are caught at all.
I’ve been tracking these murders for nine years now, and while each story remains distinct, they can also be an unending litany of death, pain and sorrow. You can pick up any of these stories and
wonder how you managed to be so lucky simply to be alive. You may even be lucky enough to note that you did not know the person killed: I’ve seen it happen thrice where I’ve had to add the name of someone who I knew personally to my records, turning what were photos offered to me in friendships into an image worthy of their obituary.
It’s more than just people I’ve been in contact with. To borrow from Six Degrees of Separation, the average transgender person is likely to be no more than two, maybe three, places separated from any other transgender person. Assuming you may not know a transgender person, it is likely that you know a friend of a friend who did.
Beyond this, many of us who are transgender need only go beyond our own common experiences to realize that yes, there is that feeling that many of these deaths could have been our own, or at least could have been the passage of someone close to us who was in a similar situation.
With one person dying every two weeks, it doesn’t take much to start to see how high these numbers are. In a year, 26 people on average are dead. In a decade, that’s 260 transgender people. It’s likely more people than you interact with on a weekly basis. It’s enough for a decent sized graduating class or the Sunday congregation at a sizable church. It is more than double the number of people who represent us in the United States Congress and, yes, it’s likely higher than attendance levels at most Transgender Day of Remembrance locations.
In short, a lot of people are being killed out there, simply because someone had a problem with the way that person looked, acted, or maybe even identified.
You’ve heard me talk about all this before, but hear me out this one additional time. We need each other, we need to stand together and work for change. This will not get any better if we stand on the sidelines; no change will come without a catalyst. It is incumbent on each of us to step forward, if not for ourselves, for all of those like us who could be the next victim of anti-transgender violence.
It’s a simple equation: stand up for change or live with the high risk of being murdered. I would assume that most folks would prefer to continue to live their lives. It doesn’t even take a whole lot to at least try and make a change. Speak your truth to those around you. Write a letter to the editor. Heck, just show up at a Transgender Day of Remembrance or similar event and stand with others to say “no more” to anti-transgender violence.
If we do not stand up, it truly is as good as saying that we accept these murders, that we even may condone the deaths of those like us. I’m not willing to accept this rate of murder, nor do I think any of us should. This is why I keep talking about this, and why I will do so again. It’s the least we can do to affect change.