Transgender Killings Reflect Deeper Injustice

By Jim Merrell 08-20-2012
Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

For the second time in Chicago this year, the life of a gender-variant young person of color was lost to violence.

Donta Gooden’s body was found in an abandoned building on the city’s West Side late in the evening of August 14th. Gooden, 19, who also went by the name “Tiffany,” was stabbed to death just three blocks from where Paige Clay, a 23 year-old transgender woman, was shot and killed in April, according to media reports. The police investigation is ongoing.

The tragedy of these senseless killings, still so raw and heartrending for the loved ones of Gooden and Clay, is beyond comprehension and deplorable on every level. But perhaps even more unsettling is how often violent crimes against LGBTQ people occur and how little social outrage they ignite.

For many, these two terrible tragedies may melt into the background in a year when Chicago is scrambling to stem a rising tide of murder across the city (year -to-date homicides are up 25 percent from August 2011 according to data compiled by the Redeye. However, they are part of an alarming trend of violence targeting LGBTQ people of color – and transgender and gender-variant people of color in particular – which directly intersects with the front lines of the HIV epidemic.

Nationally, transgender women represented 40 percent of the 30 reported hate murders against the LGBTQ community in 2011, the most recent data available from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. In the same year, LGBTQ people of color represented 80 percent of the people killed in hate murders.

In Chicago, the Center on Halsted Anti-Violence Project reported a 12 percent increase in hate violence against members of the LGBTQ community in 2010, with 73 violent incidents in 2010 as compared with 65 in 2009.

From those 73 attacks in 2010, there were two murders —  both victims were transgender women.

We don’t know if the people who killed Clay and Gooden were motivated by hate. We may never know.

But the premature loss of their young lives brings into stark relief the mountain of overlapping challenges and injustices so many are struggling to overcome. Homophobia, transphobia, racism, lack of economic opportunity, and an absence of adequate mental and physical health care leave many transgender and gender-variant people at increased risk of experiencing violence.

And if you were to face such enormous challenges daily, where would HIV prevention fall on your list of priorities?

Of course, violence and discrimination against transgender people of color is but one of the many societal obstacles standing in the way of effective HIV prevention and treatment. But they are all connected, interwoven. The day we end AIDS in America will be the day we also end violence, poverty and discrimination on the West Side of Chicago.

Clay and Gooden must never be forgotten. We can honor them by raising our voices against the social injustice that led to their murders.

Jim Merrell is the national advocacy and mobilization manager for the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. This post originally was published at Inside Story blog, which provides story and analysis about HIV / AIDS issues.  

Photo: Activists gather in Washington Square Park on the 8th Annual Trans Day of Action in New York City. Glynnis Jones / Shutterstock.com

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