In April, a 34-year-old woman named Shante Thompson was walking with a friend in her Houston neighborhood when they were swarmed by eight people, beaten and fatally shot. Thompson’s mother said Shante had been bullied by a neighborhood group in the past.
In August, 28-year-old Rae’Lynn Thomas was beaten, shot and killed, allegedly by her mother’s boyfriend, while her family watched in horror in Columbus, Ohio.
In September, 30-year-old Jazz Alford was found shot to death in a Birmingham, Alabama, hotel room. The man who was arrested and charged with her murder, Denzell Thomas, has been linked to attacks on two other women.
Like Alford, Thompson and Thomas, those women were transgender.
In 2016 alone, at least 21 transgender men and women have been murdered in the U.S., according to a report Friday from the Human Rights Campaign. The circumstances surrounding some of those murders are uncertain, as are five additional transgender deaths in 2016 that police have yet to classify as homicides. But there is no mistaking that violence against the transgender community is on the rise.
On Monday, the FBI released updated numbers that showed bias-motivated incidents based on gender identity had increased from 31 in 2013 to 114 in 2015. It’s likely those numbers are a fraction of the incidents that actually occur, not only because thousands of law enforcement agencies don’t submit hate crime data to the FBI, but because many victims don’t dare report attacks.
There’s also no mistaking why things are getting worse. As transgender men and women seek more rights and dignity, those who would deny both have created a toxic, dangerous environment by passing anti-transgender legislation or defending it with false concerns that paint transgenders as predators.
That’s what happened in states like Texas, Mississippi and North Carolina, where lawmakers and Gov. Pat McCrory claimed HB2 would make bathrooms safer for women and children. This despite no evidence of crimes in any U.S. city where transgender men and women were allowed to use the bathroom of their choice.
HRC says anti-transgender violence is also fueled by intolerant law enforcement – at least a quarter of transgender people reported police harassment. Discrimination also can lead to unemployment that compels some transgender individuals into dangerous sex work. Better police training, as well as employment and housing protections, would help begin to better protect this vulnerable community.
But policy is only part of the solution. Even if you struggle with ordinances that accommodate gender identity, you should understand that laws such as HB2 contribute to an unnecessary fear of all transgender people, and that devaluing any member of the LGBT community emboldens those who would go further.
It happened this year in Houston, in Ohio, in Alabama. We must condemn this, all of us, but we also must understand once again what history has often taught us: When you declare someone as lesser, then that’s how they’ll be treated.