By the DSA Queer Socialist Working Group
Nearly every one of the last nine years has been the deadliest year on record for Transgender people in the U.S. 2017 is no different. The Human Rights Campaign lists 25 murdered Transgender Americans so far this year.
Each of their deaths was shockingly violent. Most of the victims had yet to reach 30 years of age. The youngest, Ava Le’Ray Barrin and Ally Steinfeld, were 17 years old.
In our sorrow, we must take action and speak out. We must name the oppressive system that gives rise to such violence. For the people of the first or post-industrial world it is multi-national capitalism coupled with a rigid cisgender heteronormative patriarchy.
Capitalism cannot function without misogyny, just as it cannot function without racism and other forms of bigotry. Indeed, almost every single one of the victims is a woman of color. These women bear the brunt of an intersectional, institutional and systemic oppression, “exacerbated not just by race and gender but also by poverty stemming from discrimination.” **
A 2009 survey showed 97% of trans people experienced mistreatment at work and 26% had lost their job due to being transgender. The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey showed nearly 30% of respondents were living in poverty (twice that of the general population), and 15% were unemployed (three times that of the general population).
The barbarism is here, but economic inequality does not affect everyone equally.
Discriminatory housing and employment practices, as well as discriminatory family members and social safety nets, have created a situation where 30% of trans people report having experienced homelessness at some point in their life (for undocumented respondents, that number increases to 50%), nearly 20% of trans people have participated in the underground economy and trans women of color are seven to eight times more likely to be murdered than a member of the general population.
The crimes against trans women are not solely due to the hateful, homicidal, misogynist attitudes of the men who commit them. Trans women are also the victims of a violent system which conditions us for predation and exploitation, shows little interest in justice for those in need while punitively imprisoning the most defenseless, and which manufactures the scarcity, poverty and disenfranchisement that makes such vulnerable communities possible.
Increased hate crimes cannot be solved by increased policing when 86% of respondents report “being harassed, attacked, sexually assaulted, or mistreated in some other way by police.” According to the Movement Advancement Project, “21% of transgender women have spent time in prison or jail, compared to only 5% of all U.S. adults,” where they “were over five times more likely to be sexually assaulted by facility staff than the U.S. population in jails and prisons, and over nine times more likely to be sexually assaulted by other inmates.”
Meanwhile, “their killers are rarely found, and almost never brought to justice.” In the rare cases a perpetrator is apprehended, convictions are light, and if the victim was black, they’re lighter still.
California is the only state in which “trans panic” isn’t a legal defense. Twenty states don’t classify attacks based on gender identity as hate crimes, and where hate crime laws do exist, they are rarely used in the prosecution of these slayings.
We cannot rely on police or the state’s law, we cannot go door to door trying to change the transphobic prejudices one by one in a system which fosters and perpetuates these prejudices, but we can help trans people by improving their living conditions, directing wealth downward instead of up, so trans people are less vulnerable to depredation and not left with no other choice than to risk harassment, assault and their lives in order to survive.
In 2015, the Center for American Progress found transgender people are almost four times more likely to earn less than $10,000 a year than members of the general population, and 34% of black trans people live in extreme poverty.
Financial barriers prevent trans people in everything from changing the gender on their IDs (thereby increasing their chances of experiencing harassment and disenfranchisement), to accessing the healthcare they absolutely require.
Medicare For All could significantly ease the burden on our trans siblings, helping to free them from at least one major pressing issue. For trans people, healthcare is a physical and medical necessity. Trans poverty and healthcare’s encouplement with our discriminatory employment system make it a material necessity (33% of trans people report they did not seek health care they needed the previous year due to an inability to afford it).
Medicare For All can also satisfy a mental health care imperative. The constant stress of deprivation and precariousness in a hostile and isolating environment has taken its toll on all of us, but no one more than trans people. Nearly 40% of U.S. Trans Survey respondents report experiencing serious psychological distress in the month prior; 40% reported attempting suicide in their lifetime.
And while our country cannot even afford its citizens the most basic human dignity, three Americans now own more wealth than half the U.S. population and the House Republicans have just approved a tax giveaway that represents the greatest transfer of wealth from the working class in living memory. (2008, the year that began this series of wealth-transferring rituals, was also the year that saw the trans murder rate begin its climb to the unacceptable heights we are dealing with today.)
As trans people successfully fought to increase their visibility in an effort to combat transphobia, Breitbart propagandists, religious conservatives, the Tea Party and now TERFs (trans-exclusive radical feminists who are neither radical nor feminists, who are uniting in local “hands across the aisle” coalitions with religious conservatives and opportunistic bigots across the country) have used trans people’s increasing profile to foment and capitalize on a backlash we are still in the midst of.
Trump has demonstrated an eagerness to incite hatred and violence against the trans community, particularly when under scrutiny or in need of a scapegoat. He has attempted to ban trans people from the military. He’s the first president to attend and address the anti-LGBTQ Values Voters Summit. From Mike Pence to Jeff Sessions to Steve Bannon, the president has saturated his administration with hateful zealots. Despite the astronomical problem of trans discrimination in employment, the Attorney General will not protect transgender people under Title VII (which “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin”), and despite the fact that 75% of trans students report feeling unsafe at school, the U.S. Department of Education withdrew guidance on how to support them under Title IX (which “prohibits sex discrimination in educational institutions that receive federal funding”).
The National Conference of State Legislatures is tracking the six states that have considered legislation to preempt local anti-discrimination protections and the 16 states which have considered bathroom bills this year. Missing from the list are city initiatives, such as the one that will appear on the April 2018 ballot in Anchorage, AK.
Nearly 60% of Trans Survey respondents reported “avoided using a public restroom in the past year because they were afraid of confrontations or other problems they might experience.” Nearly one-third (32%) of respondents “limited the amount that they ate and drank to avoid using the restroom in the past year.” 8% of respondents reported experiencing medical problems, such as a urinary tract infection or other kidney-related problem, as a result.
Among students, who are effectively barred from public schools when they cannot safely use the restroom, 70% report avoiding it, and 60% report being required to use a restroom or locker room that did not match their lived gender. Ceaseless political disenfranchisement and discrimination compounds and encourages the harassment and violence trans people face daily.
This year has seen hate crimes rise across every demographic, but the climate of hate, cultivated by fascists and religious extremists, has been especially targeted toward trans people.
The right wing’s rise to power was made possible by the failed economic policies of neoliberalism and the repression of a more egalitarian alternative. As inequality continues to grow, trans poverty and therefore trans violence, does as well.
Transphobia is an economic, not just social, problem. You can’t fight for economic justice without fighting homophobia, transphobia, and sexism; you can’t fight homophobia, transphobia, or sexism without fighting for economic justice. The fight against transphobia is the fight for socialism, and we must guarantee this is true by ensuring our trans and nonbinary comrades in DSA are not only welcome and safe but empowered and encouraged.
For those of us whose very existence is put at risk by white capitalist heteronormative patriarchy, sources of community and solidarity are rare but precious. We appreciate the comrades and allies who contribute to making our organizing spaces queer and feminist, and we encourage the continued deepening of our commitment to organizing for the most marginalized. Socialism is a poor people’s movement, and to win, we must fight for and elevate the material conditions and quality of life of those most oppressed by the patriarchal Amerikan capitalist police state.
We are socialists because we seek to not only understand the world, we seek to change it. The horror we commemorate on Transgender Day of Remembrance is only bearable if we strive fully to make another TDoR unnecessary.
To report violence, and for other victim support resources, please visit the Anti-Violence Project here: https://avp.org/about-us/ or call their hotline (212) 714-1141.
* The number is likely higher. Incorrect identifications from law enforcement and media, the victim’s family or on legal documents, all contribute to underreporting. Additionally, the relative lack of reports, from areas without strong activist and trans communities ensuring the accurate identification of victims, “is likely the result of underreporting rather than an absence of violence.” For more in-depth reporting on the subject read Unerased: Counting Transgender Lives.
** The Trump effect is global and the consequences for LGBTQIA+ comrades around the world have been disastrous, dismantling an already broken immigration system while emboldening and inflaming the hatreds and convictions of despots from Egypt and Saudi Arabia to Chechnya, El Salvador and Brazil. Transgender Europe reports 325 trans and gender-diverse people have been murdered worldwide in the past year.
The working group can be reached at [email protected].
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