This week marked the 6th transgender woman of color, and 7th trans person overall, to be murdered this year. After a record-setting 2016 in which 27 transgender people were murdered, 2017 is already on pace to be the deadliest for the most marginalized group within the black LGBT community, who have a life expectancy of only 35.
Unfortunately, these deaths are becoming more common, and the normalization of trans violence intersected with a lack of response from the community has created a space to allow the dehumanization of our trans brothers and sisters. Cisgendered folk — those who identify as the gender they were born as — need to hear me clear when I say: if we don’t change our tone, we will lose an entire community, and the blood will be on our hands.
In the past week alone, at least three transgender women of color have been murdered, ironically all in the state of Louisiana. On Feb. 27, Ciara McElveen was stabbed to death, just two days after another trans woman known as Chyna Gibson was killed in a shooting. Days before, 18-year-old Jaquarrius Holland was fatally shot during a verbal altercation.
As the death toll continues to rise for black trans women, the silence from the cisgender community continues to be at just above a whisper. The black trans community is being taken away from us right before our eyes, yet we continue to allow their deaths to be nothing more than a few hashtags and posts in solidarity with little movement towards improving their livelihood.
And that’s simply not enough.
As cisgender people, it is our duty to protect the lives of those within our community who have less access, privilege, and platform to ensure the voices of the trans community are heard. This is not an easy task per se, but it’s a necessary one if we’re ever going to get to a place where trans lives matter as much as the lives of everyone else. Furthermore, cisgender LGBT folks cannot carry this load alone.
Heterosexual cisgender people, also known as cishet folks, must too bear the burden of this responsibility of challenging the toxic masculinity within the black community, which ultimately promotes the violence we see toward our trans sisters. As a whole, black people are a marginalized and oppressed population within America. However, the faux hierarchal structure we have created in our community gives a false sense of security for those at the top: black heterosexuals. This leaves subcultures, like the LGBQT community, vulnerable to violence. We then have to address the reality that far the “T” in LGBT is often ignored, due to a hierarchy based on masculinity, sex roles, and gender identity that leaves black trans women as the most marginalized group within the larger human social structure.
Letting internalized homophobia and stigma separate ourselves from part of our community continues the vicious cycle of dehumanizing our trans sisters. Yet even if cisgender members of the LGBT community stood up in solidarity, it simply would not be enough. Cishet black men and women will have to also challenge each other to do the same. Continuing to allow a culture where cishet black men can kill trans black women without much pushback from our community will inevitably lead to epidemic levels of violence.
This mentality of not challenging transphobia and the violence that plaques trans people directly correlates to the way we as a community show up and show out for the state-sanctioned violence against our hetero black men. When black hetero men are murdered at the hands of the state, we galvanize and mobilize around the cause in extraordinary numbers. However, when trans women are murdered, we are silent. We hold vigils of less than 15 people, as if their lives don’t deserve the same acknowledgement and fight as our hetero brothers. It is this lack of action and reaction to trans violence that the larger community uses as a benchmark for creating normalcy and acceptance around the violence against trans people.
These murders coinciding with the removal of transgender rights by President Donald Trump are creating an atmosphere in which dehumanization is becoming acceptable, and trans people are losing the right to simply exist in public spaces. On a government and corporate level, the decisions being made to take away the rights of trans people are fueled by stigma, fear, misinformation, and false perception that trans people are sexually deviant from the hetero community.
However, the silence that also comes from organizations that profit from trans women is deafening, as they have found a way to cognitively ignore them when they should actually be the most vocal. Community-based organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare foundations that profit off of trans women are the most silent and complicit in their deaths. They make millions of dollars from the trans population yet are voiceless in the face of the violence that they face — and at the most alarming rate.
Corporations and organizations must begin to support the trans community that goes beyond unisex bathrooms and low-level positions. They must put money behind efforts to fight legislature against trans folks, while creating comprehensive legislation to deter and fight against trans violence.
We have been quiet for much too long. As members of the black community, we have done a disservice by allowing a segment of our community to be persecuted for simply existing. If we as black folk are ever to achieve freedom, we all must remember: No one is free until we are all free.
George M. Johnson is a journalist and activist based in the Washington, D.C. area. He has written for EBONY.com, TheGrio, JET, Pride.com, Thebody.com, and The Huffington Post on topics of health, race, gender, sex, and education. Follow him on Twitter: @iamgmjohnson.