Layleen Cubilette-Polanco had experienced some rough patches in her 27 years but had tried to change course, seeking to switch out of previous jobs as a go-go dancer and sex worker for employment in places like McDonald's and Walgreens, her sister said.

She never completed that journey. Cubilette-Polanco died in June of complications from epilepsy in New York's notorious Rikers Island jail where she spent her final two months, unable to make $500 bail.

On Wednesday, transgender advocates across the United States commemorated people like Cubilette-Polanco for the Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Vigils such as one in New York that culminated in front of the Stonewall Inn LGBTQ landmark drew attention to at least 22 transgender people, almost all of them black women, who have been killed so far in 2019. A similar number have been killed in each of the past seven years, as tracked by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the United States.

Globally, at least 311 were killed in the 12-month period ending Sept. 30, the second-highest total on record, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring project of the Berlin-based group Transrespect versus Transphobia Worldwide.

Of those 130 were killed in Brazil and 63 in Mexico, the project said.

The U.S. campaign made special note of Cubilette-Polanco.

Though she was not a homicide victim, her story illustrates the insecurity of trans women of color, who are more likely to be unemployed and lack access to healthcare.

After a youth spent helping others, whether rescuing stray animals or bringing home runaway kids needing a place to stay, she decided to start helping herself, sister Melania Brown said.

"The last couple of months of her life, she wanted the change. She wanted to get a real job. She wanted to fulfill herself in society, and society let her down," said Brown, who believed that discrimination never gave the Dominican-born U.S. citizen a fair chance in the job market.

Cubilette-Polanco was arrested in April on charges of misdemeanor assault and theft over an altercation with a taxi driver. Bail was set at $500 because of a 2017 prostitution arrest, local media reported, citing arrest records.

She lived with epilepsy and schizophrenia, according to a lawsuit her family filed against New York City's Department of Correction.

The Human Rights Campaign has recorded at least 157 homicides of transgender people since 2013, nearly all of them women of color.

More than 100 demonstrators gathered in New York on Wednesday night to remember those slain, meeting at the Christopher Street pier, where transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson died in 1992, and marching to the Stonewall, site of the 1969 uprising considering the birth of the modern queer rights movement.

"We need to invest more in our trans community. Don't just send me roses when I'm gone," said Kiara St. James, executive director of the New York Transgender Advocacy Group.

The names of victims were read, and people dressed in white, their faces veiled, held up portraits of the dead.

Another speaker, who goes only by the name Synthia, said she had been the victim of a hateful act of aggression in which a man pulled a gun on her.

"I survived that day knowing my name could have been on the list I just read," she said. "So for me, Transgender Day Remembrance is about living survivors that walk these streets daily just trying to survive."

Transgender kids feel as much like girls or boys as their non-transgender counterparts, according to a major study of US children that allowed observers to see how the young people conformed to social gender norms. 

The authors of the study, researchers from the University of Washington who published their findings Monday in the scientific journal PNAS, recruited 317 trans children aged from three to 12 whom they compared to their brothers and sisters, as well as to 316 cisgender children, meaning those whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth.  

The goal of the study was to compare the gender development of trans- and cisgender children to see if the children who had transitioned to another gender differed from those who had lived their whole lives identifying either as a girl or boy.

The transition process for children typically involves a change of pronoun, and often of clothing, haircut and name.

The researchers studied the toys the children preferred, who were their principal playmates and if their clothes were more feminine or masculine.

They observed a strong consistency among the kids.  

"People have questioned whether these kids are pretending or whether, you know, it's a phase," Selin Gulgoz, the first author of the study, told AFP.

In reality, she said, "not only do transgender kids show identity and gender type preferences consistent with their current gender identity, they showed (it) to the same extent as cisgender kids do."

In other words, a trans boy of 10, who might have spent nine years of his life being treated as a girl because of his sex at birth, generally behaves like any other 10-year-old boy, the researchers said, judging by his choice of friends and toys.  

A slight difference was observed in the choice of clothes -- trans children tended to be more willing to conform to stereotypically masculine or feminine clothing than their cisgender counterparts.

The report showed that the time elapsed since the transition from one gender to another had little impact: the children quickly adopted masculine or female social norms.  

"Once children identify themselves as a girl or a boy (regardless of what their assigned sex is), they might look for ways in which people around them fulfill these roles and then try to be like them," the report said.

The project aims to follow the children's development over a number years, until they reach early adulthood.

One limitation of the project was that the p

 Violence against people who are transgender is something that's felt in the city of Milwaukee, and within the city, there is a group working to create change.

Every other week, a group of women gathers to share a meal and an experience. The group is called SHEBA: Sisters Helping Each other Battle Adversity. It’s a place for transgender women of color to feel safe.

The meeting always begins with each person sharing what is new and good in their life.

One woman shared, “I started working part-time. I haven’t had a job in almost 20 years.”

Another shared, “My daddy got out of jail.”

They share the new and good to combat the bad and ugly things they often face as transgender women of color.

They all have stories of harassment and discrimination.

“I’ve had things like, thrown at me before from moving cars, which, for anyone could be really dangerous," said Elle Hill, transgender activist. "Once, there was a glass bottle thrown at me, and once, I was shot with like, a BB gun."

Hill has been a part of SHEBA for five years.

“I’ve been a sexual assault survivor," said Hill. "A rape victim. A physical assault and sexual harassment survivor, as well.”

As the calendar inches closer to Nov. 20, Hill’s mind shifts towards what can happen when a situation escalates.

Nov. 20 is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day dedicated to remembering transgender people who have been murdered.

The women of SHEBA are some of the most vulnerable. The Human Rights Campaign says more than 80% of transgender people killed are women of color. It’s a statistic that doesn’t surprise University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Associate Professor Cary Costello.

"Nobody is ever just a trans person," said Costello. "They are a trans person with a particular gender. They are a trans person with a particular race and ethnicity."

Costello is the director of the school’s LGBT+ Studies program. He said when racism, sexism, and transphobia overlap, it can be a dangerous combination.

"It's been very clear to me that that sort of thing happens on a day-to-day basis in Milwaukee because of my own family experience,” said Costello.

“It’s just reality,” said Hill.

It’s a reality that’s hard to put into numbers.

The Milwaukee Police Department does not keep track of gender identity—meaning there are no statistics for how often assaults and other crimes are directed towards transgender people in the city.

The Human Rights Campaign has been working to keep track of transgender deaths. They reported at least 22 transgender people have been killed so far in 2019.

However, because many police departments across the country don’t track gender identity, the campaign thinks the number could be much higher.

Without hard numbers, the Transgender Day of Remembrance helps bring awareness.

The women of SHEBA want to remember the women, but also work towards creating change. They said it starts with having conversations with friends and family.

“The person that throws the object or makes the joke, their friends laughing encourages them to do so,” said Hill.

“Pushing back when you hear people say things that are transphobic, for example -- simple step you can take,” said Costello.

It's a simple step that can help spread more new and good -- a feeling of safety outside of SHEBA meetings.

President Trump put politics aside today to honor Veterans Day. He became the first president to attend the New York City Veterans Day Parade and delivered remarks which received bipartisan praise, calling our veterans "America's greatest living heroes."

The president remarked, "Today we come together as one nation to salute the veterans of the United States armed forces, the greatest warriors to ever walk the face of the earth. Our veterans risked everything for us, now it is our duty to serve and protect them."

Well done, Trump. There’s just one problem with the president’s otherwise commendable Veterans Day remarks: He continues to discriminate against an entire class of veterans and would-be service members through his administration’s transgender military ban.

Announced via tweet, the president in 2017 revoked an Obama-era policy and reinstituted a blanket ban on transgender people openly serving in the military, citing “the tremendous medical costs and disruption” inclusion would supposedly entail. After a series of legal challenges, the ban finally went into effect in April 2019.

There’s no actual reason to cast aside transgender Americans willing to ... sacrifice. Costs aren’t really a concern: A study from the RAND Corporation found that health costs for active transgender service people would only represent a ‘0.04- to 0.13-percent increase in active-component health care expenditures.’ That same study also found the inclusion of transgender troops likely has ‘little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.'

It's completely understandable that Trump and other conservatives would be concerned about the cost of covering transgender-related healthcare. But as the RAND study makes clear, the cost isn't prohibitive: It's a tiny, tiny fraction of military healthcare spending. In fact, the military spends five times as much on Viagra as transgender healthcare, according to the Washington Post.

But even if the cost is a roadblock for conservatives, that would just be a reason to refuse coverage for transition-related care. The other costs involved just don't justify an all-out ban on transgender.

Still, it’s certainly true that transgender people are more likely to experience certain mental health issues and require medical treatment that complicates their ability to serve. But this is true for the group broadly, not every individual. Any transgender person who can meet the same requirements as anyone else and receive medical and psychiatric clearance to serve should be allowed to do so.

Anything else is blatant, baseless discrimination.

Trump's discriminatory ban continues to hurt veterans and transgender people who want to serve. In an article for Time, transgender veteran Dana Delgado writes: “A military that allows people to serve openly and honestly will be stronger for it. As we celebrate Veterans Day and recognize the commitment and sacrifice of those who served, I hope other transgender service members will again have the experience of wearing that uniform knowing they can be their true selves.”

Trump is right to honor our veterans during this important holiday, but the president's words will continue to ring hollow until his actions start to line up with them.

AS OCTOBER was LGBT History Month, it seems timely to think about what is happening to primarily Black transgender women across the country.

It’s not simply timely. It’s urgent.

In 2018, at least 26 murders of transgender people occurred in the U.S. The majority were Black trans women. The previous year, the number was 29. So far this year, at least 26 transgender people — again, largely Black trans women — have been killed by acquaintances, partners, and strangers.

The numbers recorded for any year may be low due to underreporting by victim families and law enforcement. These killings align with other significant factors that render trans people more prone to violent death. These factors include poverty, homelessness, health-care barriers, depression, homophobia, racism, and sexism.

These tragedies demand a human face.

Baily Reeves, 17, was fatally shot in Baltimore, Maryland in September. Little is known about the circumstances surrounding her death.

Jordan Cofer, 22, who was out only to close friends and used male pronouns on social media, was among the nine victims killed in a mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio in August. A friend told the media he was “one of the sweetest people you’d ever meet, a true saint, but he was scared constantly.”

Dana Martin, 31, “beloved by everybody,” was fatally shot in Montgomery, Alabama, and found in a roadside ditch in her car.

Claire Legato, 21, “full of life,” died of a gunshot wound to her head in Cleveland, Ohio.

There are 22 more stories like these so far this year.

Two troubling cases remain unresolved. A 25-year-old woman named Medina, denied treatment for a severe health problem in an ICE facility, died at a Texas hospital hours after being released. Another woman, Polanco, died in a cell at the notorious Rikers Island prison in New York.

* * *

ACCORDING TO GLAAD, the American Medical Association has declared the killing of trans people an “epidemic” exacerbated by a variety of social issues, including the fact that they face high levels of discrimination and poverty.

According to one national survey of transgender people, their level of unemployment is twice the rate of the general population. They are four times more likely to live in poverty, and 90 percent of them report experiencing harassment, mistreatment, or discrimination on the job.

Access to health care is extremely limited for transgender people, in part because, until recently, private insurers have treated transition-related medical care as if it were cosmetic.

Some procedures are still not covered, and it continues to be difficult to find a provider who is knowledgeable about transgender health care.

And in one large study, 41 percent of transgender people reported attempting suicide.

“We are the most afraid we’ve ever been,” Mariah Moore, a program associate with the Transgender Law Center, told The New York Times. Kayla Gore, a transgender advocate in Memphis, added that the threat of violence is “always in the forefront of our minds, when we’re leaving home, going to work, going to school.”

* * *

IT’S IMPORTANT TO understand the meaning of the terms “transgender” and “sexual orientation,” mean, among others, if violence born of fear and prejudice is to be adequately addressed.

According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, a transgender person is someone whose sex assigned at birth is different from who they know themselves to be on the inside.

“Transgender” includes people who have medically transitioned and people who have not.

“Sexual orientation” refers to emotional, romantic, sexual, and relational attraction to someone else, whether you’re gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight or use another word to accurately describe identity.

“Gender identity” is one’s internal concept of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither.

“Transition” is a process that some transgender people undergo when they decide to live as the gender with which they identify. They are not “becoming” a different gender; they are starting to live openly, consistent with the gender they have known themselves to be.

Transitioning is a difficult and private decision. People who make that decision deserve respect.

* * *

THE REALITY OF living a transgender life makes LGBT History Month an important time for increasing awareness, acceptance, and safety for trans people.

Started in 1994 by a Missouri high school teacher to educate schools, religious institutions, and communities about LGBTQ people, it led to LGBTQ Pride Month, celebrated in June to honor the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. It has grown from a day of gay pride to a month of events.

All the activity surrounding LBGTQ history and life is important. So is the need for lawmakers to strengthen hate-crime legislation and for law enforcement and media to do a better job of addressing relevant issues.

As Sarah McBride, the press secretary of the Human Rights Campaign, put it to the Times, “the prejudices don’t add upon one another, they multiply upon one another.” They lead to the murder of innocent human beings — largely women of color, who simply want to live their lives free of fear.

Surely, that is not asking too much.

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