By Elizabeth Borngraber
So far this year, at least 18 transgender people have been victims of violent acts that have led to their death; due to a trifecta of structural inequalities and oppression most of these individuals were transgender women of color. Unfortunately, this number may be higher than reported due to ignorance and misgendering in police reports. While not every case has been legally ruled a hate crime, the effects of racism, misogyny, and transphobia cannot be overlooked and despite an increase in the media sharing experiences of transgender individuals, their heightened profile has also put them at greater risk for discrimination.
According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 42% of respondents (N = 6,450) reported attempting suicide. They were also four times more likely to live in poverty and had double the national rate of unemployment. The survey also revealed that many transgender individuals experienced inadequate or discriminatory health care, in fact, 50% of respondents reported that they needed to teach their health care provider about their needs. It should also be noted that higher concentrations of negative life experiences and discrimination were specifically found among African-American respondents, highlighting the web of oppression faced by transgender people of color.
In the wake of these tragedies, Social Workers for Reproductive Justice would like to extend our heartfelt thoughts and prayers to the family and friends of all those whose lives were taken due to violence. As social workers, we urge lawmakers to support policies that include justice for all people and work to end laws that perpetuate discrimination and violence. Nationwide acceptance and change can only be achieved by educating people about the needs and experiences of transgender individuals. The reproductive justice framework recognizes the importance of examining the intersection of all aspects of life in order to provide a holistic approach to combating oppression. It is our ethical responsibility as social workers to stand with marginalized populations and work together for social justice and human rights. Here are five simple ways you can learn more about transgender individuals and take a stand to support them:
- Don’t assume someone’s gender; ask what, if any, pronoun they prefer
- Expand your cultural competence by reading books by transgender authors and learning more about their lives
- Reflect on your own personal biases and be aware of your privilege
- Volunteer at an organization that serves trans individuals
- Sign an online petition to urge the White House to address this issue
We cannot allow the hateful murder of transgender individuals to continue; strong support and concrete action are needed to address this national epidemic. By actively taking a stand to support transgender rights, you can help end this violence. As social workers, we are perfectly poised to act as change agents on this important issue. To do nothing, would allow this culture of hate and oppression to continue. You can read the NASW policy statement about transgender issues here.
Elizabeth Borngraber is a graduate student in the University at Buffalo School of Social Work in New York state whose studies and interests are focused around women’s health and rights, healthcare access, and policy.