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On June 26, 2015 same-sex marriage was ruled legal in the United States by the Supreme Court.  At the time, the fight for marriage equality had become the most visible issue for the LGBT community.  Mainstream LGBT activists and organizations touted marriage equality as their top priority and the American public responded — galvanized to action through aggressive electoral, online, and cultural campaigns for the acceptance of LGBTQ relationships.

While same-sex marriage does recognize many LGBTQ relationships in a new way, the ability to marry means very little if one can still be fired, evicted from housing, or harassed on the street for mentioning those nuptials. Taking seriously the concerns of those marginalized LGBTQ people who continue to face systemic violence despite the Obergefell decision means grappling with the reality that the fight for LGBTQ rights is far from over. And, in this particular movement moment, it means seriously asking the question: why is it easier to fight for marriage than the lives of trans folk?

The murder of transwomen — especially transwomen of color — is an epidemic.  Trans folk face not only physical violence but also systematic discrimination and violence inflicted by institutions who often fail to see their identities as legitimate and valuable.   

Trans bodies and particularly trans bodies of color have been consistently de-valued in American society such that the average life span for a trans woman of color is now only 35 years.  Sadly, the lasting damage of this violence is compounded by a lack of visibility for trans murders in the media and in public remarks from major LGBTQ organizations.

To give you an idea of the depth of the circumstances facing trans people, here are some of the most striking metrics available on realities lived by trans folks every day.

1 in 5 trans people experience homelessness.

21% of Black trans people and 16% of Latino/a trans people have been refused medical care due to bias.

There have been at least 23 transwomen and gender nonconforming people murdered in 2015, the majority of whom were Black and/or Latina.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs reported that 72% of hate crimes against LGBTQ people were against transwomen, 90% of whom were transgender women of color.

Sitting with and internalizing these data points is helpful to build an awareness of and appreciation for the struggle that is living as a trans person in this country. But, as we all know, that is not enough. Turning rhetoric into action is the first step in making our politics transformative. To begin to make institutional change we must look critically at the ways our politics are complicit in the devaluing of trans bodies.

Below are a couple of beginning steps we can take as a progressive community to create a safe(r) environment for trans folks

  1. Self-Education: Utilizing resources to keep yourself up to date on the unique barriers facing trans folks’ access to employment, housing, and community security. After educating yourself, think about how you can spread that awareness to others in your community.
  2. Advocate: Use your networks to center the voices and needs of trans folks either through social media or other channels. Be sure to your own privilege in advocating for those that might not be able to inhabit the same space.
  3. Volunteer: There are many organizations that focus on creating a world where all trans people are fully liberated. Donate your time and resources to meet their needs. Potential organizations include Trans Women of Color Collective, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Audre Lorde Project and many more.
  4. For additional action steps, see a comprehensive list here.

These suggestions are just the beginning to working towards a world that is safe for trans folks.  Valuing and uplifting the lives of trans folks is vital in creating a world without hate and violence in which we can all get free.

Below are the names of the 21 trans women in the US murdered in 2015, including — most recently — Zella Ziona, a 21-year old Black transwoman from Maryland taken from us on Thursday, October 15th.

Say their names.  Uplift their lives.

Zella Ziona

Kiesha Jenkins

Keyshia Blige

Jasmine Collins

Tamara Dominquez

Elisha Walker

Kandis Capri

Ashton O’Hara

Shade Schuler

Amber Monroe

K.C Haggard

India Clarke

Mercedes Williamson

London Chanel

Kristina Gomez Reinwald

Penny Proud

Taja Gabrielle DeJesus

Yazmin Vash Payne

Ty Underwood

Lamia Beard

Papi Edwards

Bri Golec