Last weekend, as people filled streets across America to protest the passage of numerous anti-gay marriage measures, one could easily conclude that the ban on same-sex marriages is currently the single greatest affront to LGBT civil liberties.
And yet, many individuals are still being violently attacked and sometimes killed simply for being queer or transgender. Last month, in little over one week, three Washington State University students were assaulted on campus; two were FTM-spectrum trans individuals affiliated with the school’s LGBT association, while the other was an openly gay student so brutally assaulted by three assailants that he was taken to the hospital with a collapsed lung.
These attacks are not isolated incidents. According to the FBI, which released its annual Hate Crime statistics a few weeks ago, while racial and religious-based attacks were down between 2006 and 2007, crimes against gays and lesbians increased by six percent. And that might only be the tip of the iceberg.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP)—which collects its own statistics—argues that the FBI consistently underestimates the number of attacks on queer and trans individuals.
First, the FBI relies solely on law enforcement data on reported hate crimes, rather than including reports to victim service organizations. Second, the FBI doesn’t include statistics about violence against trans or gender variant individuals.
In contrast with the six percent increase the FBI describes, NCAVP reported an alarming 24 percent increase in the number of victims reporting incidents of anti-LGBT violence last year. With some indication that violence against the LGBT community erupts during anti-gay campaigns, those numbers may be set to rise even higher in 2008, a year that saw multiple anti-marriage ballot measures; and in which $75 million dollars was spent on California’s anti-gay Proposition 8 alone.
Hate crimes, argues Richard Juang—who contributed to the National Center for Transgender Equality’s Responding to Hate Crimes—are more than just phobic responses to an individual. Juang, who identifies as a genderqueer, Taiwanese-American, femme born male with no plans to transition, contends that these violent acts are meant to relay a message to the entire community that “our existence is deviant and of no value.”
In Los Angeles, protests against Prop 8 this past week featured celebrities like Drew Barrymore and New Adventures of Old Christine’s Wanda Sykes, undoubtedly overshadowing that city’s tenth annual Transgender Day of Remembrance tribute.
The annual day for remembering those who’ve been killed by anti-trans violence was Thursday, November 20. Vigils were held around the world honoring this year’s dead, including 15-year-old Lawrence King from Oxnard, Calif, who was allegedly shot to death by a classmate in part because he liked to wear girl’s clothing.
In addition to King, at least fifteen other Americans were killed in the past year (and 400 since 1970) for their non-conforming gender expression or identity. As violence against the trans population goes woefully under-investigated, many of their murders will never be solved.
The Day of Remembrance was started by Bay Area Reporter columnist Gwen Smith to remember the murder of Rita Hester, a highly visible transgender activist in Boston, who was stabbed to death Saturday, November 28, 1998. A decade later her murder remains unsolved.
After Smith, who founded the organization Remember Our Dead to memorialize all who were murdered as a result of anti-trans violence, went on hiatus; TransFM’s Ethan St. Pierre co-founded The International Transgender Day of Remembrance and developed a new website (transgenerdor.org) to take over where Smith let off.
“I can’t tell you enough about the work that [Gwen]’s done on our behalf;” contends St. Pierre, who says it’s a difficult job. “I work on that website for half a day and I’m bawling my eyes out. These young people with all the promise in the world and their lives were just snuffed out for no other reason than they’re trans or different. We’re being murdered at an enormous rate.”
Trans author Jacob Anderson-Minshall co-hosts the radio show Gender Blender on Portland’s KBOO. Download the November 18th episode on gender-based violence at kboo.fm.