The Sobering Link Between Transgender Visibility And Violence

by Tara Merrigan
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According to reports from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs between 2010 to 2016, members of the transgender community face a higher rate of deadly violence than the rest of the LGBTQ community — and as visibility of the trans community has increased, the violence has only become worse.

Looking at the NCAVP's studies of anti-LGBTQ violence over the past six years, the pattern of rising anti-trans violence may have a link to increased trans visibility. In 2015, 67 percent of the victims of 24 reported anti-LGBTQ homicides were transgender. In 2014 — the year TIME put Laverne Cox on its cover and declared the country had reached a transgender "tipping point" — 55 percent of victims were transgender women (out of a documented 20 homicides). In 2013 — the year that Chelsea Manning came out — 72 percent of the 18 victims of anti-LGBTQ hate violence were trans women. From 2010 to 2012, the rates hovered between 40 and 55 percent.

For advocates, the correlation between increased visibility and increased violence is meaningful. "I think one of things we talk about a lot is increasing visibility [and] how that's good, but how that's also a double-edged sword," says Kellan Baker, a senior fellow with the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress.

"Trans people have had to face many obstacles and challenges to survive and exist," trans rights advocate Gabriel Foster, who co-founded the Trans Justice Funding Project (TJFP), tells Bustle. For the trans community, he adds, "it's never not an option to talk about violence — it's ever present."

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According to the most recent National Coalition of the Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) report, 2016 saw the greatest number of homicides of LGBTQ people in the past 20 years overall: 28 LGBTQ people (up from 24 the previous year), not including the 49 killed in the hateful attack at Pulse nightclub. Among these 28 deaths, the report found that 19 of these individuals (68 percent) were transgender or gender non-conforming, and 17 of them were transgender women of color.

And fatal violence is just one of many obstacles that people belonging to the trans community face. While transgender people do face disproportionate amounts of violence, they also face disproportionate amounts of non-fatal discrimination, Jay Wu, the media relations manager for the National Center for Trans Equality (NCTE), points out. According to the NCTE's annual survey, Wu says, other identities such as race can increase the difficulties someone faces.

"One of the most relevant things is how much a compounding effect of these forms of discrimination race has," Wu says. "Respondents [of the NCTE annual survey] who are people of color faced drastically more severe levels of discrimination."

In a Medium post, Aaron Rose, who is transgender himself, detailed the so-called "double-edge sword" that visibility can bring: "Visibility is powerful. So many trans people describe not being able to place that slippery shifting something is not quite right feeling until meeting a trans person for the first time. Representation makes real the possibility of our lives. Visibility shines a light on others' paths, saying, yes, you can walk here too."

However, Rose noted that a visible transgender identity can lead to being at a higher risk of violence. "The simultaneous increases in visibility and violence are no coincidence," he wrote. "When people can't instinctively gender someone, can't neatly fit someone into a legibly binary box, they respond with violence, time and time again."

Rose wrote that he himself has experienced that violence: In May 2016, someone who identified him as transgender punched Rose in the face.

But Baker of American Progress hopes that eventually, increased visibility will lead to less violence and greater acceptance. Baker believes that at least some of the violence stems from fears of the unknown and that to some Americans, transgender people are a mystery. "As more people become aware of the lives and everyday lives of transgender people in their communities," Baker notes, "they'll say 'This isn't something I have to be afraid of.'"