2018 on Track to Become One of the Most Violent Years for Trans People - NBC4 Washington
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2018 on Track to Become One of the Most Violent Years for Trans People

Communities remember victims of violence on Transgender Day of Remembrance

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    Inside an abandoned building on Chicago’s West Side, on a Wednesday night in October, Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier became this year’s 22nd known transgender murder victim in the United States.

    Frazier also was the second black transgender woman to be killed in Chicago within a five-week period, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a LGBTQ advocacy group.

    That night, Oct. 3, she stepped off a friend’s porch and approached a white car that had driven onto Adams Street in West Garfield Park, the Chicago Tribune reported. The driver was allegedly a regular client of the 31-year-old Frazier, who neighbors said was a sex worker.

    Neighbors would find Frazier around 9:30 p.m. in the building’s backyard, suffering from multiple stab wounds. A half an hour later, she was dead.

    Her life is among those being memorialized on Tuesday, Transgender Day of Remembrance. At least 29 transgender individuals were murdered in 2017, according to the Human Rights Campaign, and another 22 in 2018.

    Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender author, said the number of known murders each year has increased since she founded the day of remembrance, in 1999 in response to the killing of a transgender woman named Rita Hester.

    In its early years, the day of remembrance consisted of small vigils in San Francisco and Boston, and they were generally recognized only by the transgender and LGBTQ community, Smith said.

    “It’s been amazing to watch it become something that is so much bigger, that is treated worldwide, written about and considered a part of the community,” she said.

    Sarah McBride, Human Rights Campaign’s national press secretary, said that the day had evolved to recognize that “transgender women of color, particularly black trans women of color, are facing the bulk of this discrimination and violence.”

    Of this year’s murders, 82 percent of the victims were transgender women of color, according to the organization’s new report, “A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in America in 2018.”

    Mara Keisling, the founder and executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, said that the struggles of people from traditionally marginalized communities are reflected in these cases.

    “We live in a country where you are more susceptible to violence if you are a person of color, if you’re low income, if you’re a woman, if you’re an immigrant,” Keisling said. “And if you are all or most of those things at once -- a young, black, low-income trans woman -- you have a bigger bullseye on your back.”

    The 22 murders highlighted in the Human Rights Commission's report include deaths that are "influenced or contributed to by the hate and prejudice against transgender people," McBride said. But transgender activists believe that there may be more murder victims who were killed for being transgender.

    How the media cover these murders and how law enforcement and medical examiners log them —including which gender a victim is identified by and whether a legal or chosen name is used — can influence the victims list.

    Chicago’s medical examiner’s office initially filed Frazier’s record under a different name, according to the Chicago Tribune. And whereas police said Frazier was female in its reports, the medical examiner wrote her gender as unknown.

    The Human Rights Campaign’s report found that 74 percent of the victims were described with the wrong gender in initial media coverage and police documents concerning their death.

    Smith also said that there’s a common misconception that all victims of anti-transgender violence identify as transgender. But Smith said a non-trans person who is attacked because someone assumed they were transgender can also be considered a victim.

    “It’s an important distinction because a person can be affected by anti-transgender violence and never have considered themselves transgender in the first place,” Smith said.

    A report released by the FBI last week found anti-LGBTQ hate crimes rose 3 percent in 2017. More than 16 percent of federally reported hate crimes target the LGBTQ community, according to NBC News.

    Although Keisling said she thinks the increase in the number of murders may be a result of better reporting, she also believes that violence against the transgender community has grown.

    “The perpetrators feel empowered,” Keisling said. “I talk to folks all the time who have been without incidents for 25, 35 years and suddenly people are harassing them, calling them names, slapping at them and telling them to get out of bathrooms.”

    Because of the increase, McBride said that she doesn’t envision a future yet where a specific day of remembrance is not needed.

    “So long as there is a need for mourning and healing, there will be a need for a Transgender Day of Remembrance,” McBride said.

    Keisling said the Transgender Day of Remembrance is important because it reminds people that the transgender individuals were more than just victims.

    “If you’ve been to vigils and funerals, if you’ve seen mothers just crying to the point of wailing that they have lost their baby, when you see best friends who now are just horrified that they’ve lost this person who is so dear to them, these aren’t just numbers, these aren’t just the 23 people who were murdered this year,” said Keisling, referring to the number of deaths in the 12 months since the last remembrance day. “These are actually 23 remarkable people with such promise and beauty and they were just cut off. And I think remembering that is just important.”