After two Black trans women were killed in the last week, violent deaths of transgender people in the United States are on track to reach a record high this year. Advocates are blaming a rise in anti-trans rhetoric.
The largest LGBT+ advocacy group in the United States, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), has recorded 25 killings this year, which means violent deaths in 2020 are likely surpass the previous record of 29 in 2017.
“As a Black trans woman, I feel absolutely horrified, I feel scared, I feel almost targeted – and I use that word specifically,” said a director with HRC’s transgender justice program Tori Cooper.
On Monday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Queasha D Hardy was fatally shot while Dior H Ova, also known as Tiffany Harris, died in New York City on Sunday. HRC said that adding the true figures were probably higher as trans deaths were often misreported.
Facing discrimination for both their race and gender identity, violence against Black trans women became the focus of LGBT+ Pride marches in the United States and Britain last month, under the banner Black Trans Lives Matter.
There are no official figures to track murders of transpeople, who make up about 0.6% of the U.S. population, according to the Williams Institute at ULCA School of Law.
Trans Americans experience higher rates of unemployment, poverty and homelessness than others in the LGBT+ community, which puts them at risk, activists say, while President Donald Trump has sought to roll back their legal rights.
“Public figures … who put out violence-diminishing, devaluing rhetoric about trans people, particularly trans women, that just stokes the confusion, the uncertainty around gender in our society,” said Raquel Willis, an advocate and writer.
“And that in turns stokes the violence that happens to us.”
Advocates said the rising visibility of Black trans people, such as in TV shows “Pose” and “Orange Is The New Black,” may also mean more murders are recorded, while noting many still go unnoticed as only the victim’s birth name and sex are reported.
“I started my medical transition 27 years ago, and I’m 50 years old,” said Cooper.
“And if I were murdered today … my family is quite supportive in some ways, but I’m not even sure if my mother would identify to me to a reporter as her daughter or her son.”