Story at a glance
- A record number of transgender Americans have been killed so far this year.
- The Transgender Day of Remembrance remembers these victims of violence and others over the years.
- As the community sees more representation in government and other fields, advocates hold hope for change.
On Nov. 17, Yunieski Carey Herrera, a 39-year-old Latina transgender woman, was found dead in her 19th floor condo in Miami. She was allegedly stabbed to death by a 27-year-old man who told local police he was under the influence of meth and "in a fit of jealous rage," according to local news outlets, and is now charged with second-degree murder.
She was at least the 37th transgender or gender-nonconforming person killed this year in the United States as of Nov. 20, the Transgender Day of Remembrance. In a year of tremendous loss around the world, the transgender community has lost a record number of people as anti-trans hate crimes soar.
“It’s been very hard, but I know that I have a voice to stand up for many of the parents of these beautiful people to let them know, you don’t have to hide. Stand tall and beautiful and make a statement,” said Clara Taylor, whose daughter Felycya Harris was killed in October at age 33, during a Human Rights Campaign (HRC) panel. “I want to let my daughter know that her mom is still standing for her just as strong as I was when she was standing here with me.”
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The number of victims is likely higher, the HRC noted in a new report, considering that anti-trans hate crimes and murders often go unreported or misreported. And even those that are reported don’t often make it into the national conversation.
“There’s a lot that go misdocumented, undocumented and a lot of the time those people are transmasculine,” said Ty Williams, the creator of the “T Will Not Be Silent” movement, during the HRC panel.
Two days after George Floyd was murdered, Tony McDade was killed by an officer of the Tallahassee Police Department. McDade, a 38-year-old transgender man, was initially misgendered by police and media as a woman.
“It made me look at the justice system differently,” Williams said during the panel. “When we say Black Lives, we only talk about Black cis men, but not Black transgender men. But when we step outside, they see a Black man first.”
At the same time, he added, “We want to make sure we look at the numbers to make sure we ask why so many Black and Brown transgender women are being murdered.”
About two-thirds of victims of fatal violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people are Black transgender women, according to the HRC, which has recorded more than 200 deaths in the United States since it began tracking the epidemic of violence in 2013.
“Every life that we have lost this year and every year had value and did not deserve to be cut short. Divisive and dehumanizing rhetoric from anti-equality political leaders has contributed to the toxic mix of racism, sexism and transphobia that drives this horrific violence. It’s on all of us to fight for change at every level and take action to support trans and gender non-conforming people. We must work to dismantle the stigma that so many in the trans and gender non-conforming community face, and bring this violence to an end,” said Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President, in a statement.
In the same year, hate crimes have soared and Black transgender women are at risk for those three parts of their identity. The FBI reported the highest level of hate crimes in more than a decade this year, revealing an increase in the number of specifically anti-transgender hate crimes reported as well. But these numbers are again likely underreported, as the FBI depends on voluntary participation from law enforcement agencies across the country.
In Pennsylvania, where hate crimes are called “ethnic intimidation,” participating agencies reported four crimes motivated by sexual orientation in 2019 and none motivated by gender or gender identity. But Kendall Stephens, who was attacked in her home on Aug. 24, knows how hard it can be to get justice in such cases.
"No one should be in a position to have to advocate on their behalf so fervently when in a state of extreme duress, but this is par for the course when it comes to trans people in just about every interpersonal issue we have to endure," she wrote in a blog post.
Stephens said her attackers didn’t initially know she was transgender, but when they realized, they increased the intensity of their blows, calling her a "man" and "tranny." Her nose was broken in two places, ribs were bruised, face was swollen, lip and teeth were broken and she was concussed. But when she went to the police, she said they were "unsympathetic" and "trivialized" her injuries.
“I can’t even come into my house without being triggered or traumatized. The one place that should’ve been safe ground. I was never safe outside, but now I don’t feel safe inside,” Stephens said during the HRC panel.
She and the other members of the panel are all only more motivated than ever to advocate for themselves and their community. And change, however slow, is coming. On the morning of the Transgender Day of Remembrance, President-elect Joe Biden tweeted a statement in support, marking a change in messaging from the country’s leadership.
To transgender and gender-nonconforming people across America and around the world: from the moment I am sworn in as president, know that my administration will see you, listen to you, and fight for not only your safety but also the dignity and justice you have been denied.— Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) November 20, 2020
Internationally, at least 13 UN member states criminalize being transgender, according to a recent report, and while the United States is not one of them, transgender Americans face their own challenges in legal gender recognition and other protections. Bathroom access laws and gender reassignment treatments remain controversial, and the Trump administration has sought to reverse Obama-era protections that prohibit discrimination in health care and housing based on gender identity.
But a federal judge stepped in to block one such regulation just days after the Supreme Court established that sex discrimination against LGBTQ+ employees is illegal. Transgender representation in politics grew in the 2020 elections, giving advocates hope for the future.
On Nov. 20, however, the LGBTQ+ community and the world remembers those whose futures were cut short.
“These victims, like all of us, were loving partners, parents, family members, friends and community members. They worked, went to school and attended houses of worship. They were real people -- people who did not deserve to have their lives taken from them. As we work to ensure that they are remembered with dignity in death, we will also continue to uplift the resilience and humanity of the entire transgender and non-binary community," said Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, in a statement.
These are the names of the transgender Americans killed this year, as reported by the HRC:
Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears
Brian “Egypt" Powers
Dior H Ova
Dominique “Rem'mie” Fells
Helle Jae O’Regan
Layla Pelaez Sánchez
Lea Rayshon Daye
Lexi "Ebony" Sutton
Michelle Michellyn Ramos
Neulisa Luciano Ruiz
Penélope Díaz Ramírez
Queasha D Hardy
Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos
Yampi Méndez Arocho
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