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A call to action in the wake of transgender death

The first two months of 2015 have been grim for members of the transgender community. In the United States alone, at least seven transgender women or transfeminine individuals have been murdered in the last 10 weeks, most of them transgender women of color. In 2014, the Transgender Murder Monitoring project reported 226 murders of transgender persons – and this data is already skewed toward murders reported in English-speaking countries, with the true statistics almost undoubtedly higher. In addition, the suicides of transgender youth like Leelah Alcorn,  Zander Mahaffrey and just last Thursday, Ash Haffner, are sobering reminders of what XOJane writer Kai Cheng Thom calls a “traumatized story…[which we] relive over and over many times before we actually die.” Transgender people are being collectively murdered by society.

On Facebook, I have seen and shared article after article of murder and suicide week after week since the start of winter quarter. I have received support and sympathy in response to the anguish these deaths have caused. But this cycle – death, grief and coping, repeated every week – is a method of survival, not a solution to deeply rooted societal problems. Unfortunately, survival isn’t easy to multitask with; it becomes crushingly difficult to organize or fight against injustice when getting up each morning itself is a victory, when mundane tasks like buying groceries or going to class are forays into a world that wants us silenced or dead.

But relegating the monumental task of changing society to a few bright figures in our community – the Janet Mocks and Laverne Coxes of the world – ignores the reality that societal change is fueled by the actions of many. It’s time for us to step up.

When I say “us,” I don’t mean just the transgender community in the world or on campus. This is a call to action for cisgender people, for you who are reading this, to care about our lives – not just our deaths. We are not animals you can point at behind safety glass and feel sorry for, ignored until every few days, another one of us dies because of the danger in our world. Your world.

So what is there to do? The 2011 study “Injustice at Every Turn,” with a sample size of nearly 6,500 transgender individuals in the U.S., is a comprehensive compilation of the realities faced by transgender individuals, and is a starting point in understanding what must be done. In education, for example, 78 percent of us face harassment, 35 percent of us face physical assault and 12 percent of us face sexual violence. Fifteen percent of us leave our high schools and colleges in the face of mistreatment from peers and teaching staff.

In the face of these numbers, explicit solutions are needed. Transgender students need mandated and enforced anti-discrimination clauses in school policies nationwide. We need frequent and comprehensive education on transgender identity and experiences, and policies guaranteeing us protection in bathrooms, on sports teams, in classrooms. It is the responsibility of cisgender individuals to help us reach this reality.

On the job, 90 percent of transgender individuals experience harassment, mistreatment or discrimination, with 71 percent of participants in this study being forced to hide their own gender identities for their own safety. Transgender individuals experience nearly double the unemployment of cisgender people and quadruple the rate if they are transgender people of color.

All states must pass comprehensive legislation mandating and enforcing workplace anti-discrimination laws for transgender individuals, including clear policies for individuals who transition on the job. Binary-gendered dress codes, bathrooms and social spaces, which often exclude transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals, must be removed. Employers should be held accountable for eliminating hiring bias and explicitly making their workplaces safe spaces for transgender employees to work. Again, the responsibility lies in cisgender people to help us make this vision real.

The report goes on. Housing discrimination, exclusion from homeless shelters and low rates of homeownership are other realities that demand solutions; rates of police abuse, incarceration, refusal of medical care and drug abuse demand others. This is our responsibility to change. Do not be the politician in 10 years whom I find myself lobbying against for the right to live. Do not be the doctor who refuses me service, the EMT who looks on as I am beaten on the streets, the police officer who arrests me for simply walking in public.

Even on Stanford’s campus, we are not insulated from the systemic failure to recognize transgender lives. Why are there so few transgender students on campus? Why does research done by students and tenured faculty alike erase our existence? Why are inaccurate and often hurtful terms like “tranny,” “transgenders,” “biological sex,” “(fe)male-bodied” and “chicks with dicks” normalized in daily conversation?

This is a call to action for the Stanford community, on campus and beyond. This is a call to action for those who have cared about our deaths in the past to begin caring about our lives.

Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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