BLOG: Transgender Americans Are Being Murdered. Does Anyone Care?
In the age of the Coronavirus global pandemic, another pandemic quietly continues to sweep our nation with deadly consistency - the killing of Transgender Americans.
Each year for decades, more than 25 transgender people are murdered in the country with impunity. Most at risk are Black trans women. These murders are dismissed or ignored by the general population and a majority of state and federal lawmakers. In 2018, Florida was the epicenter of trans murders. The state led the nation in these horrific crimes as five Black Trans women were murdered in Jacksonville, Orlando and Sarasota. So far, in the last three years, at least 8 transgender or nonbinary identifying Floridians have been killed.
In the past month alone, a total of five Black transgender women - Brayla Stone, Merci Mack, Shaki Peters, Draya McCarty, and Floridian Bree Black - have been found dead in four states, bringing the national death toll to at least seven since the beginning of June, a month meant to be a celebration for the LGBTQ community across the country. And, despite numerous policy and protocol resources published by state and national LGBTQ advocacy groups and comprehensive guidance published by the Department of Justice, law enforcement consistently “dead-names” (the use of a Transgender person’s legal name that is no longer used by the person) and misgenders the victims, demeaning them in death and impeding their own investigations.
The murder of Bee Love Slater, just outside of Clewiston, Florida, in late 2019 encapsulates the brutal nature of this public health crisis, law enforcement missteps and the complete breakdown of a legal system that is impotent in addressing this epidemic of violence. Bee Love was reportedly shot multiple times, put in an abandoned car and the vehicle set ablaze. Love’s body was “burned beyond recognition”, said the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office. Despite numerous attempts by Equality Florida to provide resources and guidance in reporting transgender murders, Hendry County Sheriff’s Office disregarded calls and emails from the organization and released a flawed press statement that violated DOJ policy and disrespected the victim in death by using the victim’s “deadname” and misgendering her with male pronouns. Hendry County Sheriff's Office Capt. Susan Harrelle sent out a media report that said in part: “Bolman Slater, VI was found dead in his vehicle on September 4, 2019.”
When law enforcement commits these egregious errors, it disrespects the victim, erases their true gender identity and impedes their own investigation as the victim is known in the community as their authentic self. These flawed actions breed mistrust and discourage locals from coming forward with vital information. In Bee’s case, as with most others in Florida, the murder was not classified as a Hate Crime. In fact, few have been solved and few perpetrators brought to justice. In most cases there is a perception of a lack of law enforcement engagement and energy to solve murders of a population that is often perceived as “less than” and having less human worth due to their gender status. As the Sheriff of one of the largest agencies in the country put it, “The problem is, these people choose this lifestyle that puts their lives at risk.”
So, how do we stem the tide of this epidemic of transgender murders in the U.S.? How do we prevent our society from becoming complacent and numb as Black transgender women are being slaughtered at an alarming rate each year? How do we better support transgender advocates frustrated by a feeling of helplessness as the deaths mount each year?
First, we must address the root cause of why our transgender sisters are forced into the extremest of measures to survive. Many cases of transgender murders follow a similar path. Due to overt discrimination, a transgender person falls off the grid, being forced from their job because of their gender identity. They become destitute, lose access to safe shelter, resort to extreme measures like sex work to survive and, as a result, often find themselves in harms way. Many end up brutally murdered in a desolate place in the middle of the night.
Work must be done to disconnect this cycle of violence by increasing awareness and inclusion of transgender people in the workplace so they do not face overt discrimination and dismissal simply for striving to live an authentic life. We must create a support system that provides temporary direct funding for food and clothing, shelter when needed, re-employment strategies, inexpensive quality health care resources and mental health support during this difficult transitory life experience.
And, just as important, we must increase the deterrent by codifying Hate Crime legislation in Florida. We must strengthen the gaps in Florida’s Hate Crime Statute to align with the federal Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (HCPA) that was signed into law by President Obama in 2009. Law Enforcement education of hate crime recognition and reporting must be improved. Hate Crimes designation provides the DOJ with the ability to aid state and local jurisdictions with investigations and prosecutions of bias-motivated crimes of violence. Hate crimes impact the fabric of our society and fragment communities because they target an entire community or group of people, not just the individual victim. Transgender murders, in most cases, should be classified as hate crimes as they are motivated by hate and violence against a group of people; the transgender community.
Transgender advocacy groups are frustrated and deflated. Transgender community leaders are discouraged and seeking solutions to stop the murders. In this time of national racial unrest and at a point when LGBTQ advocacy is centered in denouncing systemic racism, the issue of transgender violence must be an important part of the conversation.
The murder of Black transgender women must end. Black Transgender Lives Matter. But to whom?
Director of Transgender Equality