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5 Ways We Can All Help End Violence This Year

5 Ways We Can All Help End Violence This Year

Violence op-ed

LGBT people need a broader coalition if we want to turn back a wave of violence.

A few weeks in, and 2016 is already shaping up to be another critical year in which our nation will grapple the crisis of violence, safety, and oppression. Already, it affects every corner of our country and touches every community member.

The year began with an intimate partner violence homicide on January 1 in San Diego, where police responding to a domestic dispute shot and killed 30-year-old Joshua Adam Sisson, who had allegedly held a knife to his boyfriend's throat earlier that day. Black Lives Matter organizing efforts are continuing to grow in response to the epidemic of black people dying at the hands of police or while in police custody. Prompted in part by recent mass shootings, President Obama just issued an executive order on gun control. And Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers rang in the New Year by beginning a series of raids in a number of states. According to reports, these raids have resulted in well over 100 people, including mothers and children, being detained, and have struck fear into the hearts of individuals and communities nationwide.

Having just begun as the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, an organization aiming to empower LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities and allies to end all forms of violence, I feel that now is the time to reflect on the great challenges we struggle with as a nation -- and the even greater opportunities for social change.

As my news feed fills up with more accounts of violence and our collective responses every day, the obstacles we face can sometimes seem too deep and systemic to fully address, so I am starting this year by thinking about specific ways I can help make change this year. I am extending an invitation to all of us, to come together to address this violence. Here are just five ways I think we can make a real difference in 2016.

Bring more attention to all forms of violence: We must aim to expose all forms of violence that impact LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities, including intimate partner violence, dating and hook up violence, police violence, criminalization, and state violence. In 2014, NCAVP documented 15 intimate partner violence homicides and of these, 53 percent of the victims were cisgender men. Stories like these rarely receive any media attention -- and even then, seldom generate public outcry. But we and others should be outraged by the senseless harm and loss of life our communities experience due to violence every day.

Include the whole LGBTQ community. Last year,the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which includes AVP and partner organizations across the country, documented 22 homicides of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in the United States, most of whom were transgender women of color. In the year ahead, we must continue to name and address the violence against transgender women of color, while bringing to the forefront the violence that transgender men, gender-nonconforming people, and bisexuals experience. We are starting to respond to statistics about violence against transgender women, but we know from experience that statistics do not tell the whole story. Transgender men in particular have called on AVP and our movement to include them in this conversation and we are listening. This year we must do a better job of reaching out to and including transgender men, gender-nonconforming people, and bisexuals, and I am making a personal commitment to make sure that happens in my organization.

Broaden the coalition. We need to build an even bigger coalition aimed at highlighting and addressing the specific ways LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities are impacted by violence and at the same time bring LGBTQ and HIV-affected communities more fully into the larger discussion about violence in this country. We must build connections with others doing antiviolence work from other perspectives and representing other communities while understanding that those of us who experience multiple forms of oppression are most marginalized and impacted by multiple forms of violence. Our movement needs to lead with the needs of those most impacted by violence and be led by them.

Advance bold prevention strategies. In this year we must put forward solutions that address the root causes of violence as well as a range of issues that stem from and are related to violence -- issues such as housing, education, employment, health care, and immigration. Lack of access to services and resources often forces LGBTQ people into unsafe situations, placing them at greater risk for violence. And the violence they experience can cause injuries and harm far beyond the physical, leaving survivors traumatized. The daily onslaught of oppression and discrimination for many adds to this trauma. AVP's new focus on economic empowerment is one example of a program that seeks to reduce and break the cycle of violence and trauma by addressing the all too real economic disparities in our communities.

Work to change attitudes. Deep at the heart of much of the violence we are experiencing are the systemic racism, homophobia, transphobia, HIV stigma, and other forms of oppression and bias that undervalue our lives and make us targets of violence from within and outside of our community. While we have made some important strides in changing overall attitudes about lesbians and gay people, we have a long way to go to build real acceptance and celebration of transgender, gender-nonconforming, nonbinary, queer, and bisexual people in our society. It will take all of us, telling our stories, being vocal and visible allies and demanding that transgender people are front and center to change this tide. For until we are all seen as human, whole and perfect as we are, we will never achieve real safety and justice.

In these months and years after winning marriage equality and other legal victories, we need to work harder than ever. There are a determined few who are looking to find ways to roll back our existing rights and to keep us from moving forward. As we saw with the repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, there are efforts under way to block or reverse the advancement of LGBTQ rights built on homophobic and transphobic fearmongering. But despite these efforts, we have the opportunity to build an even stronger, more inclusive movement for justice centered on ending the violence that touches us all.

And just as important as what we do is how we do it. These issues are momentous and the work is hard. Despite the scarcity of resources, the deep impact of trauma on our lives, and the challenges we face, I believe we can and must build our movement on principles of care, support, respect and appreciation, and it is in that spirit that we should enter this work together. Our actions today will determine the direction of our movement for the next decade.

BEVERLY TILLERY is the executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project. Follow her on Twitter @BeverlyTillery.

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