Violence against the transgender community is at epidemic levels, with 28 reported murders of trans people (predominantly women of color) in 2017 here in the U.S. alone. While these numbers are alarmingly high and important to report, they only tell part of the story. For each reported incident of anti-transgender violence, we know that there are most likely tens, if not hundreds more that go unreported each year. Why don't we hear about these attacks? Some of this can be attributed to misinformation that is perpetrated by the police and subsequently the media, while sometimes it's the victim's own family who compounds the problem by misnaming or misgendering their family member in reports.
The crux of the issue though goes beyond simple misreporting of information. If we are to be honest, much of the general public still looks at transgender people as having chosen the life they live — and if life is so bad for them, then maybe they shouldn't have ... [insert any of the many offensive assumptions that cisgender people make about the trans experience]. If trans people chose to live this way, then isn't the violence perpetrated against them actually their own fault? This blatant disregard for the very humanity of a person and their life experience is confounding to me. As a transgender man, I understand that my lived experience gives me more empathy for other trans people, but is it really too much to ask people to consider that behind each of these violent crimes is a trans man or woman who just wants to live their lives as their true selves?
Only 20 percent of Americans think they know someone who is transgender. That's why it's important for trans peoples' stories to be told. Not just stories of violence, but stories of victories for transgender equality and stories that humanize and give faces and names to our community. When we are reminded that transgender people are just like everyone else in their hopes and dreams, then it is harder to disregard our humanity.
It's also important that when anti-transgender violence is reported, it's reported accurately. We must hold our law enforcement and media accountable to report attacks on transgender people correctly.
Don't use a trans person's birth name if they no longer go by that name. Use the pronouns the person used for themselves. Switching pronouns or names only furthers a false narrative that trans people's identities are not real. We can't always rely on the police as the only source of information on the attack of a trans person. Unfortunately, law enforcement is often the source of misnaming and misgendering victims, as well as using incorrect terminology and language when referring to a trans person. We must hold our city officials accountable to tell the full story and to not be tempted to sweep attacks on trans people under the rug as "just another assault." No city wants to be labeled as an unwelcoming place for people who identify as LGBTQ, but Charleston will not ever be a truly safe place for trans people until issues like this are called out and addressed.
Let's hold ourselves to a higher standard. I firmly believe that the way we will be judged as a society is by how well we treat our most marginalized citizens. When we look at our country, the transgender community experiences some of the highest rates of unemployment, housing insecurity, poverty, discrimination, and suicide, making them some of the most vulnerable members of society. Is this how we want our history to play out? Is this the country we want? Is this the city we want? Let's not just hold our leaders accountable, let's hold ourselves accountable for making our community a place where all are welcome, safe, and valued.
Chase Glenn is the executive director of the Charleston-based Alliance for Full Acceptance, an LGBT advocacy group.