March 15th, 2017 was National Day of Action for Trans Women of Color. Launched by the LGBT advocacy group Get Equal, it was a collective call to action to stand with, protect and celebrate the lives of transgender women of color. Three months into 2017, seven trans women have been murdered in the U.S.
The deaths of Mesha Caldwell, Jaquarrius Holland, Chyna Doll Depree, JoJo Striker, Ciara McElveen, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, and Tiara Richmond are alarming civil rights and anti-violence advocates. While 2016 was the deadliest year on record for transgender homicides, 2017 could be even worse – that statistic is an everyday reality for transgender women of color in South Florida.
“It's very important for the community to understand the violence that transwomen of color face just trying to live every day,” says Tatiana Williams, Testing Expansion Coordinator at the Pride Center in Wilton Manors. “I believe that the police and some involved in government fail to protect these women because they feel we bring the violence on ourselves. Most of the time, it's a pure hate crime.”
Related: SFGN's Transgender Special Issue
The frequency of the killings this year is rattling a community whose members are prone to suffering violent attacks, whether hate-based or otherwise. Transgender people have had more reason to watch their backs since President Trump’s administration halted a White House policy of pushing for their rights to the same public bathrooms as other men or women. In a major show of solidarity, Get Equal partnered with several national organizations including Black Lives Matter, the National Black Justice Coalition and the Institute for Asian Pacific American Leadership and Advancement for a series of rallies around the country.
Last month, Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.) announced his chairmanship of a transgender equality task force for Congress’s Equality Caucus. “We will fight back against a scourge of hate-based, hate-inspired violence that plagues the transgender community every single day, particularly women of color,” he said.
Despite that support, the life remains difficult for many transgender women. The National Center for Transgender Equality states on its website that one in five transgender people in the United States has been discriminated against when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes, because of their gender identity. Meanwhile, another study conducted by the Center for American Progress and the Equal Rights Center in 2016 finds only a minority of homeless shelters are ‘willing to properly accommodate transgender women.’
“We have gotten use to celebrities telling our stories i.e. Caitlyn Jenner and Jazz Jennings,” says Williams. “These ladies are privileged and have no clue of real struggles as a transwoman. They may understand the transition aspects but when it comes to living in the trenches, they have no clue. We need more women of color on the front lines to empower one another to show each other you are not alone. We are tired of living in the shadows – the sad part is, many people want to keep us there.”