By Lily Zheng
Content warning: graphic descriptions of violence, murder, suicide, transphobia
I was awake at 1 a.m. on Tuesday night reading about death. “Miscilene, a person of color, was found on a wasteland with head injuries and a bloody piece of wood.” “Teresa died of asphyxiation by strangulation. Her body was dragged through the street and left there.” The Transgender Murder Monitoring Project had 295 such descriptions on its Trans Day of Remembrance 2016 list.
2016 has been one of the worst years in recent memory for trans communities around the world. The 295 murders worldwide and 24 murders in the United States alone broke the previous record (271 and 22, in 2015), despite the increasing visibility of transgender, gender-variant and intersex people in society. As I wrote for 2015’s Trans Day of Remembrance, “never before have trans people been so visible in media and popular culture, and never before have trans people been so violently under threat.”
During my four years at Stanford, at least 1030 trans people have been murdered around the world. In other words, at least one trans person has been killed every 34 hours for the last four years. The true number of deaths – taking into account suicides, unresolved cases and media misgendering – is likely many times higher than the confirmed number. 86 percent of trans people murdered in the last eight years were under the age of 40. Those murdered in the United States have been overwhelmingly Black or Latina trans women and femmes – a grim reminder that violence along lines of race, class and gender often combines with fatal results.
In March of 2015, I called on cisgender people to pass anti-discrimination legislation in housing and employment, introduce gender-neutral or gender-inclusive spaces and expand access to medical care, education and academia. In 2016, as we move forward from a presidential election that has caused calls to queer and trans suicide hotlines to more than double, it is clear that we need tangible goals more than ever. It’s not enough for writers like me to call for “an end to transphobia” or make other statements that make readers nod gravely in response, but never act. The time has come for concrete action in support of trans lives.
- We must engage our communities at Stanford, in the workplace and back home on topics of transphobia, gender and trans liberation. Having the empathy to engage people from a place of understanding and love requires dedication and persistence to meet people where they are and have difficult but necessary conversations. If transphobia and violence comes from hate and that hate comes from fear, how can we make our classmates, family members and coworkers less afraid?
- We must call our local and state representatives and hold them accountable to trans communities. Many trans communities depend critically on the availability of local resources and services – housing shelters, social safety nets and community services. Pro-LGBTQ+ policies are a crucial and necessary start, but they are just that: a start. The wellbeing of trans people cannot be separated from the well-being of other marginalized groups. To truly support trans people, especially multiply marginalized trans people, we must implore our representatives to pursue pro-immigration, pro-worker, pro-sex work, anti-prison and anti-racist policies, in the recognition that these policies are all interconnected.
- We must support local and national trans organizations, advocacy groups and support networks with our time, energy and/or wallets, to empower trans organizers to create change. Whether we act by inviting nonprofits to campus, volunteering to write letters to incarcerated trans people or helping organize community events and fundraisers, we must support those people working directly with trans communities. Too often, marginalized communities are forced to resolve crises on their own as society looks the other way. Supporting local and national trans groups helps ensure that resources exist for those who are most at risk and for those who are most abandoned by social safety nets that many of us take for granted.
- We must leverage our influence within organizations and institutions to create welcoming spaces for trans people, and to advocate for trans justice and gender equity on a societal scale. As organizers, leaders, faculty and/or administrators, we can use our visibility to uplift the work of trans organizations, and our power and reputation to call on other organizations to do the same. If Stanford truly supports higher learning, then it has the responsibility to support other institutions on behalf of all trans students, trans researchers, trans academics and trans staff. As future leaders, we all must learn how we as individuals can best utilize our networks and organizations to support trans justice.
- We must love and respect trans people in the ways that they ask for. We cannot fight on behalf of the trans community if we do not love and respect trans people. Ask yourself if you would ever date a trans person. Ask yourself if you would hire a trans person, or leave your child with a trans person. Transgender, gender-variant and intersex people are told by a transphobic society that we are unwanted, unlovable and undeserving of dignity. This is the easiest and most basic action to take, and yet we so often forget to do it.
The work will be hard – all important work is. This is all the more reason why we should do that work together, no matter who we are, what we do or where we do it. To close with a rally chant:
When trans people are under attack, what do we do?
RISE UP, fight back!
Contact Lily Zheng at lilyz8 ‘at’ stanford.edu.