CHICAGO, IL - MARCH 03: Demonstrators protest for transgender rights with a rally, march through the Loop and a candlelight vigil to remember transgender friends lost to murder and suicide on March 3, 2017 in Chicago, Illinois. The demonstration was sparked by President Donald Trumps recent decision to reverse the Obama-era policy requiring public schools to allow transgender students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Why transgender women face violence in the US (2019)
02:16 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

Dana Martin was found in a roadside ditch. Chynal Lindsey was discovered in a reservoir. Bee Love Slater was found burned in a vehicle, and Bailey Reeves was shot after she left a party.

They were all transgender. They were all women. They were all black. Their stories are tragic, their deaths horrific. And there are many more like them.

At least 22 transgender and gender non-conforming people have been killed in the US this year, according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign. It’s the fifth year in a row that at least 20 transgender people were killed, the HRC says.

Year after year, violence against trans people, particularly black trans people, continues to alarm authorities and advocates. The American Medical Association calls it an “epidemic.”

“When society continually dehumanizes and diminishes the dignity and identities of transgender people, when we have politicians undermining the lives and rights of transgender people, it sends a dangerous signal to those who would discriminate [against] or even attack the transgender community,” Sarah McBride, national press secretary at the Human Rights Campaign, told CNN.

The numbers of trans and gender non-conforming people killed each year are disturbing. But experts say they don’t tell the full story.

Some deaths are unreported

There is no official federal source on how many transgender people are killed in a given year.

The federal government collects crime data primarily through a system based on voluntary reporting from state and local law enforcement agencies. Agencies aren’t required to report crime data to the FBI, and no US jurisdiction or agency routinely collects information about a person’s gender identity when they die.

The body of Chynal Lindsey was recovered from a lake in Dallas in June.

And some incidents of violence are never reported to law enforcement.

Advocacy organizations like the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, as well as activists like Monica Roberts, track deaths of transgender people using available data and information from the LGBTQ community.

But they caution that the real numbers are likely higher.

Some deaths are misreported

Another issue that contributes to underreporting is that some trans people are misgendered at the time of their death.

Law enforcement, witnesses, family members and even friends might misidentify a trans victim with the gender they were assigned at birth, rather than the gender identity the person lived by. Family members might use the wrong pronouns or the name a transgender person was assigned at birth.

Often, trans people are misgendered when they die because their family refused to acknowledge their gender identity, McBride said. Other times, the person may not have been out to many people. And in some cases, their family may not understand how to use the correct pronouns.

Muhlaysia Booker Booker was found shot to death on May 18 in south Dallas, shortly after she was assaulted by a mob.

Incorrect information from authorities and relatives can lead to misgendering in media reports too.

That’s why Monica Roberts started tracking trans murder victims a few years ago on her long-running blog TransGriot.

She started looking for telltale signs in local news reports, like when someone would be described as a “man in women’s clothing.” She’d figure out when a person had been misgendered and then write about it on her blog. Now that she’s been doing it for a while, people in the community send her tips too. Her findings are often picked up by advocacy organizations and media outlets.

“Frankly, I got tired of black trans women being disrespected by the media,” Roberts, Media Chair of the Black Trans Advocacy Coalition, told CNN.

The Human Rights Campaign typically relies on a person’s social media accounts as the best indication of how they wanted to be referred to, McBride said.

“These transgender people have spent their lives trying to live authentically, trying to be seen in who they are,” McBride said. “To have their life cut short and then to have their identity removed from them is an indignity on top of the ultimate injustice.”

Black women are particularly affected

The majority of transgender people who are killed are black trans women.

Since 2013, about 111 out of at least 157 transgender and gender non-conforming victims of fatal violence have been black trans women, according to advocacy groups. Out of the 22 trans and gender non-conforming people killed this year, all but two were black trans women.

So why are black trans women so disproportionately affected?

They’re black, they’re transgender, and they’re women. Each of those distinct identities means that they face discrimination, prejudice and inequities on multiple fronts.

“It’s really these intersecting forms of inequality that put trans women of color at the highest risk of homicide,” Kerith Conron, research director and distinguished scholar at the Williams Institute, told CNN.

Black LGBT people have significantly higher poverty rates than white LGBT people, according to a report by the Williams Institute. And overall, transgender people have higher poverty rates than other segments of the population.

“The reality is that when someone lives at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities, when they’re facing not just transphobia but misogyny and racism, the consequences can be deadly,” McBride said.

Some are killed by people close to them

Sometimes transgender people are killed by those closest to them.

Half of transgender and gender non-conforming people killed since 2013 have been killed by an acquaintance, friend, family member or intimate partner, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Studies show that transgender people face higher levels of intimate partner violence than cisgender people. And those higher rates of violence at the hands of partners are also correlated with other risk factors, like homelessness or engaging in sex work.

“It happens because you have folks that have still not bought into the reality that trans people are human beings too. And we are not going away, we are not going back in the closet,” Roberts said. “We are part of the diverse mosaic of human life and the sooner that people accept that and move on, the better.”

Some victims aren’t given justice

In some cases, perpetrators of violence against transgender people are not properly prosecuted, advocates say.

Only eight states currently ban the so-called “panic defense,” a le