Ending the Epidemic: Working to End Violence Against Trans Women of Color

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November 11, 2014
Zahyr Lauren, Tyron Garner Memorial Fellow for African-American LGBT Civil Rights

Friday, November 14, 2014 marks the beginning of Transgender Awareness Week. November 20th is the national Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR). TDOR is a day to remember all trans people lost to violence and suicide. Transgender women of color are disproportionately affected by this violence. I wish to honor and remember Cassidy Vickers and the countless transgender women of color we have lost.

Cassidy Vickers was my cousin. I lost contact with her in middle school. I went years without hearing any news about her life.

In November of 2011, I received news about her murder. My mom called to tell me that Cassidy was shot in the chest and killed in Hollywood, California, on Lexington and Gower Street.

Cassidy’s name is situated within an ever growing list of transgender women of color, who have been murdered simply for existing, in a culture that is often apathetic to the tragic realities of bias-motivated violence.

We are in a state of emergency. An emergency that I did not recognize existed until the murder of Cassidy Vickers.

2014 has been particularly brutal. On October 12th a trans woman in Bushwick, Brooklyn was viciously beaten with a 2x4 while walking down the street with her friends. She sustained a traumatic brain injury.

At least eight trans women of color have been murdered since June. These women include: Kandy Hall, Baltimore, June 3rd. Zoraida Reyes, Anaheim, June 12th. Yaz’min Shancez, Fort Myers, June 19th. Tiff Edwards, Cincinatti, June 26th. Mia Henderson, Baltimore, July 16th. Alejandra Leos, Memphis, September 5th. Aniya Parker, Los Angeles, October 2nd. October also saw the murder of Jennifer Laude in the Philippines at the hands of a U.S. Marine.

Violence against trans women of color has been met with courageous leadership from within the community. Women like Bamby Salcedo and Dee Dee Chamblee have long struggled for the right to survive, thrive, and just be.

Bamby Salcedo

Bamby Salcedo (pictured right), of the L.A. based Translatina Coalition, is lead organizer on an upcoming national #TranslivesMatter Day of Action on November 18th. The Day of Action will include events in multiple cities across the country. Ms. Salcedo recently released a documentary film entitled Transvisible, offering an intimate view into her life as a transgender Latina.

On October 2, 2014, Ms. Salcedo came to Lambda’s office to discuss the documentary and to share her outrage about the murder of her friend Zoraida Reyes, a transgender Latina who was murdered in L.A. in June. When asked about the current feeling of women of color in Ms. Salcedo’s community, she had this to say:

We are outraged. People think it’s o.k. to kill us. Many of us are afraid because this is something that could happen to any of us at any given point, but we are empowering ourselves by organizing nationally to bring attention to this issue and demanding that we be able to enjoy the right to exist. You are not going to kill us for living our lives authentically. We will continue to be in our community, and we will continue to be here.

Many of us can do more to lighten the load of transgender women of color. In addition to the uncertainty they face each day, many must deal with historical trauma triggered by news of murders and attacks in the community.

Dee Dee ChambleeDee Dee Chamblee (pictured right), White House Champion of Change, Executive Director and founder of LaGender, Inc., and co-director of SnapCo (Solutions not Punishment Coalition) shared:

The violence today brings up a lot of feelings for me personally. I remember being in a car with a man when I was young and involved in sex survival work. This man paid me. When I went to get out of the car he began to stab me repeatedly. He had removed the plastic from the lock on the door so all that was left was a little piece of metal so I couldn’t get out. Finally I broke free and someone, must have been an angel, picked me up and took me to the hospital. I almost died that day. This is what the violence now is forcing me to remember.

The violence against transgender women of color is not limited to those involved in sex survival work. Being a trans woman of color anywhere, at any time, means exposure to targeted hate based violence. Aniya Parker was shot in the head after fleeing from a group of men who assaulted her as she walked down the sidewalk. Alejandra Leos was found shot several feet in front of her own home.

While the suffering is evident, trans women of color throughout the country are valiantly advocating for themselves and inviting the broader community to join the fight. As Dee Dee Chamblee told me, “You do not have to be a trans woman of color, all you have to do is be a human being that believes that all people deserve to be treated equally with proper human dignity and respect. Where there was no path, we had to make one. We ask that everyone walk with us.”

Lambda Legal recognizes that there is much more that can, and needs to be done in support of transgender people of color, particularly women who navigate racism, sexism, AND transphobia.

Lambda Legal continues to advocate for the rights of transgender people in every aspect of daily life, working to bring us all closer to the day when the epidemic of violence against members of our community, particularly those whose identities intersect, will end.