The Genocide of Black Trans Women: The Survival for Existence and America’s Disregard for Equality

It’s an exciting time for the transgender community, as transgender folks can now serve openly in the military, there is an increase of gender-neutral public restrooms available, and within in the healthcare system there is now more awareness than ever for the needs of the trans community. However, it is also still a very scary situation for many transgender individuals, particularly trans women of color. Last year in 2017, twenty-seven transgender people were brutally murdered in the United States alone, and additionally two more transgender women have already been senselessly killed in 2018. The first woman killed this year was the founder of the Miss Trans America Pageant, 42 year old Cristina Leigh Steele Knudslien, who was killed on January 8 in North Adams, Massachusetts. The second person was 33 year old Viccky Gutierrez, who died on January 12, in Los Angeles, California.

As I went through all of the names of trans people killed, I noticed a startling trend, with the exception of one black transgender man and three white women, they were all women of color, but specifically black trans women. This all happened just in the U.S., one could only imagine the global numbers. In addition to this, these are all only the cases that were reported, with people who were identified as transgender, when many may live stealth and not be identified as transgender even in their deaths. I was flabbergasted by this revelation! My mind began going through a series of questions. Why? Why the increase in murders of black trans women? Is there an increase of intolerance toward black trans women in America as compared to the past? Or are we just reporting more stories now? But my biggest and more encompassing question is, why are people so sensitive about race, gender, and gender expression? The answer I believe starts within our society’s history and process of socialization surrounding topics of racial stratification, gender identity, and sexuality. When we stop to think about it these all are avenues of power, whether it be a stance of empowerment for an individual to uphold, or someone else’s power over another person, it exhibits control, and when another person has control and agency of their own happiness and well-being that is outside of prescribed roles of the colonizer, it can, sadly, be at the detriment of their very existence.

Through the systemic tactics that citizens have been conditioned under, threatened individuals feel the need to act to display their exertion of power by blindly killing anyone or anything that disrupts the system of domination. In the past, and still today, there are innumerable instances of the implicit and explicit methods of colonization that are still being used to enforce the gender binary, misogyny, and racial subordination. Its troubling how comfortable American society is with endorsing racism, sexism and transphobia. This is often seen throughout many films and television shows of the same redundant tropes of the dark, savage, sexually perverse, mentally unstable “transvestite” individual who deserves to be subjected to violence, and ultimate disposal. This system socializes members from a young age to take it into their own hands the “obligatory responsibility” to control and terminate any situation that disrupts the authoritarianism of the established dominant, patriarchal, heteronormative, eurocentric American order. This list of women is evidence of what happens when someone does not follow the rules of conformity to fit the “ideal” model of humanness.

These numerous examples also highlight “the way power has clustered around certain categories and is exercised against others” (Crenshaw). With her theory of structural intersectionality, feminist and leading critical race theorist Professor Kimberle Crenshaw asserts that the identities and social positions of women of color is not a one-way street. Specifically, black trans women often experience the most discrimination because they come from multiple positions of intersectionality: race, gender, queerness, and often times low-income status. Quite often, our positions as human beings alone intersect at different avenues in this world in relation to the levels of adversity that we may go through, but in reference to black trans women’s existence, it does not correlate well with the constructed model of worthiness, and her existence is often deemed as insignificant. One member from BreakOUT!, an LGBTQ youth organization based in New Orleans, said in a statement to MIC.com in connection to two women murdered last year in that state, Ciara McElveen (21) and Chyna Doll Dupree (31), that ultimately when it comes to the status of many black trans women and women of color in America today they “…need jobs, housing, education and access to safe spaces -and yet we continue to have to simply fight for our lives” (MIC.com). In 2015 Kimberle Crenshaw started the #SayHerName movement, in connection to the Black Lives Matter movement, to advocate for the many unrecognized black women killed by police brutality over the last few years.

I stand with Crenshaw in the fight of honoring these women’s lives by joining the #sayhername movement. But not only in regards to police brutality but to state-sanctioned violence period, in recognizing the numerous black trans women and other trans women of color that were heinously killed over the past year: Kiwi Herring (30), Brandy Seals (26), Brooklyn Breyanna Stevenson (31), Candace Towns (30), Derricka Banner (26), Jaylow McGlory (29), TeeTee Dangerfield (32), Ebony Morgan (28), Ava Le Ray Barrin (17), Kenne McFadden (27), Sherrell Faulkner (46), Brenda Bostick (59), Chay Reed (28), Alphonza Watson (38), Jaquarrius Holland (18), Ciara McElveen (21), Chyna Doll Dupree (31), KeKe Collier (24), JoJo Striker (23), Mesha Caldwell (41), and Tiara Lashaytheboss Richmond (24), Stephanie Montez (47), Josie Berrios (28), Viccky Gutierrez(33) and Two-Spirit, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow (28) (glaad.org — /anti trans violence 2017).