Saturday, November 20 is the Transgender Day of Remembrance.
COMMENTARY: The nine recently reported suicides of boys savagely bullied at school have been rightly deemed tragedies — the outpouring of sympathy, outrage, and empathy from the LGBT and mainstream press, community, and leadership has brought the issue of teen suicide to national attention.
But in reading the blogs and watching the news reports, I couldn’t help but think about the untimely deaths of LGBT kids whose stories haven’t been heard. Imagine if those nine young people had been killed, violently, by their peers. It’s unthinkable. Then push further: Imagine the outrage and sadness if it had been not nine but a dozen. Not a dozen but two dozen. Not two dozen but three or four or five or six dozen dead kids.
A pointless exercise in unimaginable grief?
Not at all. In fall 2006, GenderPAC, with help from Global Rights, issued the report “50 Under 30,” which documented the violent deaths of 54 LGBT kids between 13 and 30, nearly all of whom were murdered because of their gender identity or expression.
Just two years later, there were 17 new victims — bringing the grand total to 71, many of them just teenagers and almost all of them transgender. That’s about six dozen total. Not such a pointless exercise after all.
With help from New York City’s Gay and Lesbian Anti-Violence Project, we reissued the report as “70 Under 30” in 2008. Shocked and dismayed by what we had found, we waited for the outrage and sadness, the funding and the national exposure, from the LGBT community. It never came.
I’m still waiting.
As a transgender person myself, I’ve come to the conclusion that as a community and a movement, we don’t “own” transgender kids — alive or dead — in anywhere near the same way we do gay kids. How else could we grieve so profoundly over these nine untimely and tragic deaths and say so little about an appalling and ongoing epidemic that has claimed scores more?
Of course, it doesn’t help that almost all were biological males presenting as extremely femininely or simply female, about four out of five were black, some were old enough to be trading sex work for food, and almost all were from impoverished homes in neglected communities where many were ignored by the police and the press. No, trans people do not always make the most sympathetic victims.
Most were killed by kids their own age and most by multiple assailants. More than a few were still being savagely assaulted well after it was clear they were no longer alive. The average media coverage of these murders was five or six paragraphs — barely a mention.
This plague of violence has been remarkably and sadly stable for more than a decade. Another transgender kid murdered about every three months. Put another way, between the untimely death of 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover in April 2009 and 13-year-old Asher Brown in September 2010, another eight or nine transgender kids were probably murdered. Where is the outcry? Where are our tears?
This remains the “silent epidemic.” I am not aware of any national organization or funder that has prioritized the violence that stalks these kids. For such a compassionate and caring community, we seem to have totally forgotten the “disposable” kids in our midst.
Is it asking too much for our national organizations, which do so much to determine public discourse, to take public and active stands against this epidemic? Is it asking too much for our foundations to invest in stopping this plague of violence?
Is it asking too much for us as a movement to own these kids and this violence as our own and to do something about it?
I doubt this will ever happen. The fact is, at the national level our movement is driven by practical politics. And making these kids the poster children for anti-LGBT violence is not politically useful. And so, with a few exceptions, most of our national organizations prioritize other kids whose deaths arouse more sympathy. It has been this way now for going on two decades. And so the violence continues.
Yes, we now tack “transgender” and “gender identity” onto just about everything having to do with youth. Good for us. I appreciate the mention. That’s at least progress of some sort.
But the truth is, these kids — young, poor, confused, alone, gender-queer to the max, and often out on the streets — are the weakest and most vulnerable among us. When I was living in New York, I remember sometimes I’d go to play early-morning basketball at a small West Side Highway park not far from the LGBT Community Center. I’d see them on the benches, huddled in twos or threes, flamboyantly feminine, talking in low tones and sharing a cigarette, remarkably soft and at the same time street-hard as a silver dollar. It was a life I knew would have killed me quickly. As I’d walk past them, headed back to my warm, dry Village studio, I’d think, How do you do it? How do you survive?
Now I know: Often they don’t.
Now take it up a notch. Imagine yourself a young black male-to-female tranny, out on the streets. You don’t pass. The hostility is evident. Everywhere you go, people stare, and no place feels safe. You look for the dark corner of a building to take a pee because you can’t use the men’s room or the women’s room. You’re walking alone in the night in downtown Cleveland or by the pier in New York City in a borrowed dress and high heels, still very biologically male and in a world of shit if a cop stops you for ID. If you get beaten up, there’s no place to turn for help. You have no money. You need to score hormones desperately but don’t know where. Surgery is not even a dream on the horizon. You’re stuck in some netherworld where you’re not gay, not straight, not female, and not male. What you are is alone and afraid and cold and hungry and really and totally fucked with no end in sight. So when some guy offers you $10 for 10 minutes you’re so desperate and hungry you accept, and as you walk around some anonymous corner covered with dirty brick you see two of his friends waiting with ax handles and bats and you know you’ve made the mistake of your life.
So no, this story does not end happily.Who speaks for these kids? Who will name the violence and try to stop it? Will you? Would you have reacted any differently if these recent suicides were transgender kids? How would it make you feel? What would you be prepared to do about it?
Here’s a list from 1996 to 2006 to help you think about that: Sakia Gunn (15), Quincy Taylor (16), Fred Martinez (16), Allison Decatrel (17), Gwen Araujo (17), Nireah Johnson (17), Ukea Davis (18), Brandie Coleman (18), Tarayon Corbitt (19), Jerrell Williams (19), Chareka Keys (19), Lauryn Paige (19), Alina Marie Barragan (19), Stephanie Thomas (19), Nikki Nicholas (19), Donathyn Rodgers (19), Christina Smith (20), Dion Webster (21), Kareem Washington (21), Cinnamon Broadus (21), Christian Paige (22), Chanel Chandler (22), Tyra Henderson (22), Timothy Blair Jr. (22), Chanelle Pickett (23), James Rivers (23), Michael Hurd (23), Ryan Hoskie (23), Delilah Corrales (23), Tyra Hunter (24), Sindy Cuarda (24), Jessica Mercado (24), Imani Williams (24), Amanda Milan (25), Alejandro Lucero (25), Emonie Spaulding (25), Bella Evangelista (25), Feliciano Moreno (25), Tamyra Michaels (26), Sidney Wright (26), Bibi Barajas (27), Loni Kai Okaruru (28), Deasha Andrews (28), Arlene Diaz (28), Jacqueline Anderson (29), Francisco Luna (29), Robert Martin (29), Joel Robles (29), Robert H. Jones (30), Reshae McCauley (30), Ashley Nickson (30).