Four Transgender Women Were Killed Last Week in the U.S.

By Layton E. Williams 3-02-2017
A photo of Chyna Gibson, who was murdered in New Orleans on Feb. 25
https://www.gofundme.com/memorial-fund-for-chyna-doll-gibson

Ciara McElveen. Chyna Gibson. Keke Collier. Jaquarrius Holland. These are the names of four black transgender women killed in the span of one week at the end of February. Three of these murders occurred in Louisiana; Gibson’s and McElveen’s in New Orleans within a two-day period.

The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that these latest crimes bring the total number of trans women killed in 2017 to seven. That is a higher number than at this point in 2016, a year that saw trans deaths on the rise: Twenty-seven transgender people were killed in 2016, more than any previous year.

These latest killings occurred in the same week that Donald Trump’s administration revoked federal guidelines protecting trans students’ right to use the public school bathroom matching their gender identity. Though Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said that the department was still committed to “protecting all students, including LGBTQ students,” she has offered no concrete information on how such protections would be enacted. Instead, she joined Attorney General Jeff Sessions in supporting the move, which orders schools to disregard memos protecting trans children that were distributed by the Obama administration.

The action taken by Trump’s administration does not change the law itself, according to representatives from civil rights groups Lambda Legal and the ACLU. According to a report from CNN , these groups state that Title IX demands protection of transgender students, even if Trump’s action blurs the lines of what the law requires.

On March 28, the Supreme Court is set to consider a case from transgender 17-year-old Gavin Grimm. Grimm was denied the use of the restroom matching his gender identity by his local Virginia school board. The Supreme Court’s ruling on Grimm’s case will clarify whether proper legal interpretation of Title IX protects trans students’ rights around bathroom use.

Transgender people in America are at particular risk of violence and hate crimes. According to a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 55 percent of all LGBT homicide victims in 2014 were transgender women, with 50 percent being trans women of color. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey reveals that 78 percent of transgender/gender non-conforming K-12 students experience harassment, and 35 percent experience physical assault.

According to The Southern Poverty Law Center, the deaths of Gibson, McElveen, and Holland are unlikely to be prosecuted as hate crimes because Louisiana’s hate crime laws do not offer protections on the basis of gender identity. In fact, Keke Collier is the only one of the seven trans people killed this year whose death occurred in a state with hate crime laws that protect transgender people.

Attempts to counteract the high rate of violence against transgender people are stymied by the lack of legal protections. In a statement responding to the murder of Jaquarrius Holland, The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs said, “As a society we can stop this epidemic by hiring trans women of color, making sure they have safe places to live and standing up when we see or hear them being demeaned and attacked and simply by valuing their lives. The moment to act is now.”

Trans rights activists also encourage remembrance of the trans women of color who have been murdered, telling others to “say her name” and keeping saying it. Mesha Caldwell. Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow. Jojo Striker. Jaquarrius Holland. Keke Collier. Chyna Gibson. Ciara McElveen.

Layton Williams serves as Audience Engagement Editor at Sojourners.  

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