Violence Against Black Transgender Women Goes Largely Ignored

They struggle with transphobia and ignorance—and trying to find a place inside the Black Lives Matter movement.

A rally in Harlem organized by the Trans Women of Color Collective in observance of the one-year anniversary of the Islan Nettles slaying Aug. 18, 2014. Nettles, a 21-year-old black transgender woman, was pummeled to death outside a Harlem police station. Her slaying is still unsolved.
A rally in Harlem organized by the Trans Women of Color Collective in observance of the one-year anniversary of the Islan Nettles slaying Aug. 18, 2014. Nettles, a 21-year-old black transgender woman, was pummeled to death outside a Harlem police station. Her slaying is still unsolved. Douglas Sanders

Katrina Goodlett, a co-founder of TWOCC, hosts a weekly podcast called The Kitty Bella Show, on which she discusses issues that center on the experience of transgender woman of color. It is one of the ways in which she is using media to lead conversations that she hopes will help cis people understand her experience as a transgender black woman. So far, she is pleased with the response.

“It’s been phenomenal,” Goodlett told The Root. “I’ve had tons of cis people tell me that they love the show and that they’ve learned a lot and they support, so that’s definitely, that feedback is there. I’m very happy, and it lets me know and affirms the work that I am doing. Not that I need that affirmation, because I don’t need cis affirmation to know that my life is valued, but I know that the mentality and the thinking is changing.”

While the exact number is unclear, Hunter says at least 20 transgender black women have died as a result of transphobic violence over the past two years.

According to a 2013 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report (pdf), 72 percent of victims of anti-LGBT homicide were transgender women, and 67 percent of victims were people of color.

There have also been instances of media misgendering victims by referring to them by the names they were assigned at birth. GLAAD has published a media guide for journalists to help newsrooms avoid such issues.

Hearns, a board member of TWOCC, says there are a lot of reasons that transgender black women face violent backlash in the black community.

“Religion plays a big part in how we deal with the LGBTQ community, period,” Hearns said. “But specifically trans women of color, there is a lot of misogyny that is compartmentalized, and a lot of people don’t want to deal with trans, even the word ‘trans,’ because it challenges everything that they’ve been taught by systems of oppression and white supremacy.”

While TWOCC is doing the work, Hearns added that cis black people need to be more understanding of their privilege, and the collective’s membership is certainly not waiting for them to catch up.

But Hunter says it’s not just transgender women who need to be proactive in uplifting transgender women. All black people have to realize that transphobia can’t co-exist with the fight against anti-blackness.

“We need for people to wake up and understand that white supremacy is killing us all,” Hunter said. “Not just trans people, not just black people, but all of us. We need to work together strategically to dismantle the system. So it’s not so much about getting to know the intricate details of trans people. All you need to know is that we’re human, and humanity calls us to come together.”

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