The American Human Rights Campaign (HRC), The United States’ most prominent LGBT rights advocate group, released new findings detailing 2020 as the deadliest year for transgender individuals since it began recording violence in 2013.

The report is issued as the 39th violent death of a transgender woman, just 20, was recorded this week in Miami, Florida.  Earlier this week the HRC also recorded the 38th violent death of a transgender woman, just 22, in Houston, Texas. Both women had fatal shot wounds- since 2013 gun violence disproportionately contributes to the recorded deaths, totalling two thirds of all deaths.

Across 30 states and 113 cities, 202 incidences of fatal violence have been recorded in the past seven years. 

2020 is the worst year on record for transgender deaths after 2017, which resulted in 31 deaths.

This grim milestone proves what we have long known: this violence is an epidemic.”

Alphonso David, The Human Rights Campaign Foundation President

The report, An Epidemic of Violence: Fatal Violence Against Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming People In the U.S. in 2020, found that 66% of all fatal incidences targeted black transgender women. 

Alphonso David, The Human Rights Campaign Foundation President at HRC says “This grim milestone proves what we have long known: this violence is an epidemic. Each one of the lives we lost was someone ripped from their family, their friends and their community by an act of senseless violence, often driven by bigotry and transphobia and inflamed by the rhetoric of those who oppose our progress.”

The HRC believe the only way these numbers can fall is by reducing the stigma surrounding transgender peoples. 

In the report the HRC explicitly notes what leads to fatal violence against transgender individuals. 

It begins within the dehumanisation of transgender individuals and anti-trans stigma which takes form primarily with lack of family acceptance and a hostile political climate. 

In 2020, approximately seven in ten transgender and gender non-conforming people killed as a result of fatal violence were killed by an acquaintance, friend, family member or intimate partner.

HRC flag, image @mattpopovich

Denial of opportunity in the form of Employment Discrimination is a huge contributory factor. 

In 2019, President Trump notably implemented a ban on transgender people joining the military. Anyone with gender dysphoria who is taking hormones or has already undergone a gender transition is no longer allowed to enlist.

In June 2020, President Trump reversed the Obama-era healthcare protections for transgender people in the healthcare system. Rights favouring healthcare and insurance professionals to deny care for transgender peoples based on personal beliefs, despite receiving federal funding, were initiated. 

Since records began in 2013, 76% of victims were under the age of 35, 10% were under the age of 21 and seven of the victims were minors. 

Increased risk factors include the engagement in Survival Sex Work, a form of sex work categorised as prostitution work because of extreme need or lack of other opportunities for employment. 

Since 2013, the FBI began to record gender motivated crimes and violence. Data released by the FBI in 2019 which shows two gender motivated homicides in the same time period as the tracking by the HRC. The HRC acknowledges that not all violent and fatal crimes affecting transgender individuals are anti-transgender attacks, but there is likely a gulf in reporting by state law enforcement feeding the FBI’s findings. 

States with particularly regressive views may purposefully misgender the victim of a fatal incident, leading to a misrepresentation in the overall statistics and more worryingly to a lack of appropriate investigation. 

The reporting of gender related crimes to the FBI’s investigations’ is purely voluntary at a federal level, thus keeping the victims of transgender violence invisible- even after death. 

Moving Forward

The HRC is campaigning for new laws and legislation to combat the rise in violence. 

In the majority of states there is no law explicitly banning the use “panic defense.”

So called “Panic Defense” allows a defendant to argue in court that they carried out their crime in response to being ‘alarmed or distressed’ by an individual’s gender or sexuality, subsequently leading to a reduced charge or sentence. 

Progress has been made in the past seven years with California, Illinois, Rhode Island, Nevada, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, New Jersey, New York and Washington all enacting bans on this unjust excuse for carrying out violent hate crimes. 

The HRC is also campaigning for the decriminalisation of sex work which predominantly affects the poor, black, brown and transgender women.  The call is for consensual sex work should be legalised and law directed to instead protect those who partake in transactional sex as a way of survival. 

Progress was also made on the ballot box this year, with 20 transgender individuals running for public office and the notable election of the first transgender state senator Sarah McBride,  a former HRC spokesperson, who will represent Delaware. 

The HRC says ‘Even in the face of physical danger, hatred and discrimination — sometimes ruthlessly endorsed and enforced by those at the highest level of our government — transgender and gender non-conforming people live courageously and overcome unjust barriers in all corners of our country.’

HRC president reflects on the report findings, “We must utilize this moment to not only remember each and every person killed this year, but to also continue taking action to dismantle the culture of violence and stigma that the transgender and gender non-conforming community faces. There are lives on the line, and we must commit with every breath to fight for the change we need.”

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