A third transgender woman was killed this week in Puerto Rico, part of an ongoing “epidemic of violence” targeting the LGBTQ community. At least nine people have been killed since January 2019.

The bodies of two transgender women were found inside a badly burned car earlier this week.

“There is no longer any doubt, this is an epidemic of anti-LGBT+ violence,” activist Pedro Julio Serrano said. “The police have the obligation to disclose the status of the investigations of at least eight murders, one death without a determined cause, and several attacks in which LGBTQ people have been injured since January 2019.”

Penélope Díaz Ramírez was killed on April 13. Her death was not reported until now.

The two other victims as Layla Peláez and Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos by local activists. Police say DNA testing will be required to officially identify the women, but Peláez’s grandmother was able to identify her granddaughter’s car when she saw it on the local news.

“Never in my career have I seen so many reports of deaths of our transgender and gender non-conforming community in such a short time in one location,” Tori Cooper, director of the Human Rights Campaign‘s transgender justice initiative, said after the latest murder.

a“Penélope did not deserve to die. Transgender people do not deserve to die. Every single advocate, ally, elected official, and community member must stand up in light of this horrific news and say ‘No more.’ What we are doing is not enough.”

“Transgender and gender non-conforming people, especially women of color,” she added, “are too often the victims of a toxic mix of transphobia, racism, and misogyny.”

“They are hunting us,” Serrano said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a federal complaint on behalf of two student-athletes protesting Idaho’s recently signed law that prohibits transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports at the state’s public schools and universities.

House Bill 500 (HB 500), titled the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, also requires sex verification in certain situations, that the ACLU as described as “invasive.”

“We’re suing because HB 500 illegally targets women and girls who are transgender and intersex and subjects all female athletes to the possibility of invasive genital and genetic screenings,” Gabriel Arkles, senior staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s LGBT & HIV Project, said in a press release. “In Idaho and around the country, transgender people of all ages have been participating in sports consistent with their gender identity for years. Inclusive teams support all athletes and encourage participation — this should be the standard for all school sports.”

An article published in Advocate.com said the ACLU’s complaint was filed on behalf of Lindsay Hecox, 19, a transgender track athlete at Boise State University, and an unnamed 17-year-old cisgender student at Boise High School. Both student-athletes identify as female.

“I just want to run with other girls on the team,” Hecox, who hopes to run track for the Broncos, said in the press release. “I run for myself, but part of what I enjoy about the sport is building the relationships with a team. I’m a girl, and the right team for me is the girls’ team.”

Governor Brad Little signed the bill into law on March 30, making Idaho the first state to place an outright ban on transgender athletes in scholastic athletics. The bill was introduced by Rep. Barbara Ehardt, a two-term Republican representing the Idaho Falls area and former women’s basketball coach at Cal State Fullerton.

 

HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Lexi, a 33-year-old transgender woman killed in Harlem, New York on March 28. Lexi’s death is believed to be the fifth violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in this year in the U.S. 

According to reports, Lexi was fatally stabbed at work in Harlem River Park. She was taken to a nearby hospital, where she was pronounced dead. No arrest has been made at this time, though witnesses watched the alleged attacker leave the scene. HRC will update this blog as more details are known about Lexi and her death.

“I really looked up to her because of her tolerance and respect,” said Lavonia Brooks, a friend of Lexi. “Lexi had a beautiful heart, she was very gifted.” Brooks also noted that Lexi loved poetry, makeup and fashion.

Lexi engaged in sex work and it is believed her attacker also did. According to one report, 80% of street-based sex workers reported violence. Nearly nine in ten transgender people engaging in sex work or suspected of engaging in sex work reported being harassed, attacked, sexually assaulted or mistreated in some other way by police, according to the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey. Out of those who were working in the underground economy at the time they took the survey, nearly 41% were physically attacked in the previous year and over one-third were sexually assaulted in that same time.

In many instances, the criminalization of sex work can exacerbate the epidemic of violence targeting the transgender community, particularly transgender women of color. These tragic figures underscore the urgent need to decriminalize sex work, bringing workers out of the shadows and closer to critical services and protections.

There is an epidemic of violence against the transgender and non-binary community, and especially against Black transgender women. In November 2019, ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance, HRC Foundation released “A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in America in 2019,” a heartbreaking report honoring the trans people killed and detailing the contributing and motivating factors that lead to this tragic violence. Sadly, 2019 saw at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported -- or misreported.

There are currently very few explicit federal legal protections for transgender or gender-expansive people. At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in New York are explicitly protected in employment, housing or in public spaces, and they are covered under the state’s hate crimes legislation. Nationally, despite some marginal gains in state and local policies that support and affirm transgender people, recent years have been marked by anti-LGBTQ attacks at all levels of government. 

We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation appearing at the local, state and federal levels because it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive.

HRC will continue to hold the Trump-Pence administration and all elected officials who fuel the flames of hate accountable at the ballot box.

"The only way to combat hateful legislation is to vote. Trans communities must make their voices heard by supporting affirming policies and politicians," said Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement. "Trans people of color are disproportionately victims of violence -- 91% of trans persons murdered in the U.S. in 2019 were Black trans women."

This epidemic of violence that disproportionately targets transgender people of color -- particularly Black transgender women -- must cease.

Transgender adults experience considerably greater economic hardship and worse health than cisgender adults, according to the first study to document the socioeconomic struggles of this population in the United States.

The study was coauthored by Kitt Carpenter, E. Bronson Ingram Professor of Economics and director of the Program in Public Policy Studies, Gilbert Gonzales, assistant professor of medicine, health and society, and Vanderbilt alumnus Samuel Eppink, now an economist with the Centers for Disease Control.

Transgender Status, Gender Identity, and Socioeconomic Outcomes in the United States appears in the Industrial and Labor Relations Review.

“Historically, it’s been very difficult to study the transgender population because there hasn’t been a lot of data to work with,” Carpenter said. “Partly that’s because the transgender population is so small—less than one percent of Americans—and partly because very few surveys even ask people if they’re transgender in the first place.”

However, in 2014, the CDC began including routine questions about gender identity and transgender status in its massive annual Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System survey project. The survey is designed to track how Americans manage their health, but it also contains demographic questions about employment, income, education and more. The size of the study—there were around 400,000 respondents—allowed Carpenter and his coauthors a glimpse into the socioeconomic lives of more than 2,100 transgender people from 35 states across the United States.

These representative data provide the first large-scale evidence that transgender Americans are doing worse than cisgender Americans along a number of important indicators of wellbeing.

“We found that transgender Americans are about 14 percentage points less likely to have completed college and 14 percentage points more likely to live in poverty,” said Carpenter. Notably, even after controlling for the lack of a college degree and other observable differences, transgender Americans are still 11 percentage points less likely to have jobs than comparably situated cisgender men (i.e., men who are not transgender).

“Economists call this an unexplained gap, but it’s likely that discrimination plays a role,” Carpenter said. He noted that in about half the country, there are no laws prohibiting employment discrimination for transgender workers.

In states where those laws do exist, however, the researchers said they didn’t see much of a difference. Though the sample size for any given state in this survey was too small for the researchers to draw broad conclusions, Gonzales said that future research should examine such policies more closely.

“It may be because these laws are still too recent to have made much of a difference, or it may be that prohibiting discrimination in the workplace isn’t enough to address the many reasons transgender people may be unable to work,” said Gonzales. “From previous research, we know that transgender people have higher rates of stress-associated physical and mental illness and disability, some of which may begin in childhood. We also know that transgender people have a harder time accessing medical care. It may be that solving these disparities will require broader policies that prohibit discrimination in schools, health care, housing and other settings as well.”

LGBTQ advocates are calling it the most inclusive policy of its kind. On Wednesday, the Tallahassee City Commission unanimously voted to ban conversion therapy for minors.

The vote has been hailed nationally as a major win for Florida, which is among the 28 U.S. states lacking even basic LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections. It comes as advocates anticipate the 11th Circuit Court to rule on whether a similar conversion therapy ban in South Florida’s Boca Roton is constitutional.

The new Tallahassee ordinance goes beyond outlawing conversion therapy for minors. It also forbids city funds from going toward the debunked practice.

“This is a big victory for our LGBTQ community and an important message to end this barbaric practice of psychologically torturing young people,” activists from Equality Florida said in a media statement.

Scott McCoy, interim deputy legal director of the LGBTQ Rights Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, also called on the rest of Florida to follow suit in banning the practice.

“Taking a stand against conversion therapy is an extremely important step in the right direction to support the well-being of Tallahassee’s LGBTQ residents,” he said. “But the commission has also sent an important message to LGBTQ youth: You are perfect the way you are and do not need to be fixed.”

In a recent report, The Trevor Project found that LGBTQ youth who have undergone conversion therapy are twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who have not.

“This conduct has been discredited by prominent medical associations and proven to be dangerous,” said Sam Brinton, head of advocacy and government affairs for The Trevor Project. “This new ordinance will send a message to the LGBTQ youth of Tallahassee that they should be proud of who they are, and hopefully, it will inspire other localities in Florida to take similar action as well.”

 

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