On an unseasonably warm November night in Washington, D.C., dozens of transgender people, their allies, and supporters gathered at the corner of 14th and Irvine near the Columbia Heights metro station. One person was arrested as police attempted to move people out of the intersection, charges were later dropped.
Wednesday night’s demonstration was part of the Trans Week of Action in D.C. held in the lead up to the Trans Day of Remembrance, which is commemorated today around the world.
Participants in the action denounced the obstacles facing transgender people in the U.S. and globally. Many of the organizers of the demonstration were Latin@ trans people, some of whom had recently fled their home countries.“We are here to demand that they stop killing us, not just physically, but socially,” said Alexa Rodriguez, the Youth Program Transgender Coordinator with La Clinica Del Pueblo. “We are denied access to work, we are denied access to education, we are denied services.” Rodriguez spoke into the megaphone in Spanish, her calls were met with cheers of agreement from the crowd.
Trans people, and especially trans women, face a dire situation in the U.S.: from January to August of this year, 17 transgender women were murdered in the U.S.
"It really is a state of emergency,” said U.S. actress, advocate and artist Laverne Cox in an interview on Good Morning America. “Your life should not be in danger simply for being who you are. We have to say these people's names."
According to a recent report by the DC Trans Coalition, Washington, D.C., has among the most trans-inclusive laws in the U.S. But trans people in the nation’s capital continue to live in poverty or with precarious employment, and face discrimination in accessing services and housing.The same report found that nearly half of trans people in D.C. make less than US$10,000 per year, and that Black Trans persons here face a 55 percent unemployment rate. Almost half of Trans people of color surveyed had been denied a job because of their gender, compared to 30 percent of white trans folk. In addition, one in five trans people was homeless at the time when they responded to the survey.
But discrimination and violence against Trans people, gender non-confirming folks and queer people is not just an issue inside the U.S. A statement released by the United Nations in September documented an array of abuses against LGBTI people around the world, including “murder, assault, kidnapping, rape, sexual violence, torture,” as well as psychological violence. Youth and queer and trans women are particularly at risk, as are people fleeing violence or searching safety in wars or other emergencies.Many of the people gathered at the demonstration on Wednesday in D.C. had migrated from Mexico and Central America in order to escape violence.
“I personally am a patriot, a Salvadoran to the core, I am 44 years old and I resisted coming to the U.S., I had a 10 year visa and I never wanted to come to the U.S., and now I’m here between a rock and a hard place,” said Pati Hernandez. She left her job as director of ASPIDH Arcoiris, a group that works with queer and trans people in San Salvador, to seek safety in the U.S .along with her partner. “I fled. I was the director of ASPIDH Arcoiris, and I came up here to escape the situation. This year alone, 25 trans people have been killed in El Salvador.”According to a report by Trans Respect Versus Transfobia published in May, over 1,700 trans and gender diverse people have been murdered worldwide over the past seven years. The U.S., Mexico, Colombia, Brazil, Venezuela and Honduras topped the list as the most dangerous places to be a trans person. The report noted that the numbers of murders are highest where LGBT groups are the most organized to do monitoring, which means there are many more killings going unreported.
Diana Sacayan, a high-profile trans activist in Argentina, was brutally murdered in her home on Oct. 13. Her killing brought the focus to deadly violence brought against trans people in South America. Sacayán was one of Argentina’s most visible trans activists as a leader of various LGBTI organizations. Sacayan was a key campaigner in a successful bid to have a one percent quota for trans people to be hired in public sector jobs in the province of Buenos Aires. Sacayan had previously succeeded in changing her gender identification on her national ID card. Her new ID was hand delivered to her by President Cristina Fernández. She was the third trans person murdered in Argentina in the space of a month.
According to a 2013 study by TransLatin@, 99 percent of trans Latina immigrants to the U.S. surveyed said they had better social and economic opportunities here than they did in their home countries. The situations of violence that trans people are fleeing are extreme, and migrating to the U.S. presents a possibility for survival.
The Center for American Progress estimates that there are at least 267,000 LGBTI adults living in the U.S. as undocumented migrants. A June 2015 report by the National Center for Transgender Equality estimates that there are 15,000 to 50,000 undocumented trans adults in the U.S., along with thousands of trans youth.Undocumented trans people face additional risks here in the U.S. Increasingly, migrants and asylum seekers are imprisoned upon arrival in the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement are required via a congressional mandate to detain 34,000 deportable immigrants in the U.S. each day.
Trans people are 13 times more likely to experience sexual assault while in migration detention. Trans migrants in detention are frequently denied medical treatment, they are often held with people from a gender they do not identify as, and they are often subject to humiliation and verbal abuse because of their gender. In addition, trans and queer people in migration detention are regularly placed in solitary confinement based on their gender or sexuality.
The many layers of violence exercised against trans people in the Americas has been met with incredible bravery, as trans advocates take great chances to organize and to speak out.
“As trans people we have the right to health, to housing, and to life,” said Alexa Rodriguez. Her words echoed in D.C. Wednesday, as part of a constellation of trans-led events worldwide in the lead up to today’s Trans Day of Remembrance.
Finally, Rodriguez led a powerful call and response with the crowd: “Deje de matarnos! Stop killing us!”