The TMM Annual Report 2017 shows: A total of 325 trans people were killed between October 2016 and September 2017, a number overwhelmingly representative of female-perceived people of colour from lower income and migrant backgrounds. Of those with a known profession, sex workers represented 62% of murder victims and of the 123 murders in Europe, one third were migrants.
These stark statistics illustrate the virulent nature of transmisogynoir and transmisogyny worldwide and may make 2017 the most murderous year for people of trans experience since records began.
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Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) honours those who lost their lives to anti-trans violence in the past 12 months. It is also a renewed call for solidarity with those fighting daily for the right to exist. The input of trans and gender diverse individuals at all levels of law and policy making decisions must be central to the fight, alongside an understanding of the intersectional nature of anti-trans hate crime.
Broader systemic inequalities compound the trans experience, with those already belonging to marginal groups most likely to be the target of violence. The differing legal and social contexts will inform and shape the response to such violence, but there are unifying issues. Transgender Europe (TGEU) is calling for worldwide decriminalisation in three crucial areas: gender identity/expression, sex work and migration.
Subject to state persecution
Those with non-conforming gender identities are subject to state persecution in countries such as Russia, whose legislature passed the ‘Gay propaganda law’ in 2013.The bill, also known as the ‘anti-gay’ law, sought to prevent the dissemination of information relating to gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation to minors, combating what proponents call the ‘propaganda of transgenderism’.
State-sanctioned stigma of this kind prohibits the work of trans organisations, drives trans and gender diverse individuals underground and leaves anti-gay and anti-trans groups such as ‘Occupy Paedophilia’ free to attack LGBTQI communities. Generating a global conversation around the decriminalisation of gender identity/expression would put such legislation under more acute international pressure, turning the tide in favour of those wishing to live freely in the country they were born.
Our task is to move from sympathy to responsibility, from complicity to reflexivity, from witnessing to action. It is not enough to simply honor the memory of the dead - we must transform the practices of the living.
Academic and activist Sarah Lamble
In 2017, sex workers made up 78% of trans murder victims in Italy, 90% in Turkey and 88% in Europe and Central and South America. That trans and sex worker communities overlap is no coincidence given the barriers to work and housing. Trans migrants, on arrival in a country, face further barriers in obtaining a legal status, and general integration with little to no pre-existing support network. In an attempt to meet immediate needs, many enter into sex work, making them more vulnerable to individual and state violence.
In the US, the picture is particularly stark when race is considered. Some 86% of trans people murdered were people of colour and/or Native American. Of the sex workers killed this year, 50% were black and 34% Latinx. Criminalisation has shown to increase the likelihood of violence against sex workers and decrease the likelihood that the abuse will be reported.
(!) Content warning: the video contains brief descriptions of violence and police oppression. (!)
Visit www.tdor.tgeu.org for more information about the Trans Day of Remembrance.
A solution for violence against sex workers
The worldwide decriminalisation of sex work (not to be confused with the legalisation model, which would still prescribe state-specific conditions for sex workers) would allow those working in the field to hold to account those exploitative and abusive individuals.
There are no official statistics for the number of asylum claims made on the basis of gender identity, although many trans murder victims in Europe in the past year were Latin American migrants. What is well reported is the often hostile and ill-equipped immigration agency staff many face on arrival to a country. Migration regularisation and ending the deportation of undocumented migrants would allow trans and gender diverse individuals to access much-need health care and integrate more quickly in their new home.
Tackling global issues such as those outlined above would require strong coalitions on the ground, which is where well-resourced communities come into play. TGEU has for example partnered with Berlin-based trans organisation TransInterQueer (TrIQ) on a trans sex workers project.
The program mainly supports Eastern European migrants, either homeless or in precarious living situations, by distributing food and clothes to those in need. This linking of pre-existing trans organisations illustrates a way forward for more effective resource sharing and strengthening of community ties. It also combats another, often invisible killer: isolation.
Increase in state-sanctioned anti-trans hate
In early October the US voted against a UN Human Rights Council resolution calling for an end to the death penalty for people based on gender and sexual orientation, just days after Egyptian authorities launched a new round of arrests against gay and trans people. At the same time, police in Azerbaijan’s capital, Baku, were rounding up gay and trans individuals, who were subject to beatings and forced medical examinations. Police claimed they were clamping down on prostitution.
This increase in state-sanctioned anti-trans hate has, fortunately, been met with a broad international coalition of trans-rights campaigners, increasing the visibility of the fight. Many more are standing in solidarity with trans issues, recognising that we are all, in one way or another, in transition, whether re-affirming or moving away from the gender ascribed to us at birth.
Solidarity, crucially, means adopting a perspective that centres the voices of those most at threat from the daily forms of violence, namely female-perceived trans people of colour. It means insisting on such a presence in all areas of political and social life. If such voices are absent from legislative and policy making decisions - and in the first instance - much will be lost and the death toll will rise.
It also means recognising that anti-trans violence is never purely anti-trans: it is often racist, anti-immigrant, anti-sex worker and class-based. Complicity in one form of oppression is complicity in such violence. TDoR is not just an international day of mourning but a call to action, for solidarity in death means nothing if not practiced in life.