According to a 2011 study (pdf) conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, people who were both transgender and of color were almost 2.5 times more likely to experience discrimination and nearly two times as likely to experience intimidation as non-transgender white individuals. Also, half of those who experienced hate violence did not contact the police after their attack. A 2009 report conducted by the same group found that of the 22 people who were murdered in 2009 because of their sexual orientation, about 80 percent were people of color and half were transgender women; the other half were overwhelmingly men who defied gender stereotypes.
It’s also important to note that the trans community’s relationship with law enforcement is just as grim. In 2011 a National Center for Transgender Equality and National Lesbian and Gay Task Force survey of 381 black transgender men and women (pdf) found that 38 percent of those surveyed who had interacted with the police reported harassment by officials, 14 percent reported physical assault and 6 percent reported sexual assault. Another 35 percent of black transgender people said that they had been arrested or held in a cell because of bias at some point in their lives, and 51 percent reported discomfort seeking police assistance.
Given that systems continue to fail the ones who need it the most, what are transgender people of color supposed to do? The answer depends on whom you ask.
Some might offer: Do nothing, because the crime isn’t the violence committed against you. The crime is your very existence, being out in the open and not being ashamed of who you are.
McDonald, the Newark 4 or Darnell “Dynasty” Young (the gay student who brought a stun gun to school to fight off his bullies) would most likely tell you: You fight back; you fight for your life, because no one else has your back.
As long as our society continues to co-sign on the former sentiment, black transgender people like CeCe McDonald will continue to look over their shoulders, scared as hell, knowing that when danger lurks, if they have the audacity to fight back and not allow themselves to be killed, there’s a good chance that they are the ones who will be punished. The message is crystal clear: Transgender people have very little value in this world, dead or alive.
Kellee Terrell is an award-winning Brooklyn, N.Y.-based freelance writer who writes about race, gender, health and pop culture. Terrell is also the news editor for thebody.com, a website about HIV/AIDS. She blogs about health for BET.com. Follow her on Twitter.