November 20th is Trans Day of Remembrance, a day to commemorate and honor the lives lost to violence and oppression against the trans community and to recognize the severity and pervasiveness of transphobia in our society. Trans people, trans women of color in particular, experience extremely high rates of violence. Studies have found that 66% of transgender individuals have experienced sexual assault 1. 30-50% of transgender people experience intimate partner violence 2. 23 trans women of color have been murdered in just 2017 alone 3. Looking at these statistics and hearing about crimes that have been committed in our city just this year, such as the violence committed against Desiree Copeland who suffered life altering injuries after a man shot fireworks at her and then beat her with a metal bat 4, pains me and forces me to reflect on what we are doing to create a society where these kind of things can happen. How many lives would be saved if trans survivors of crime were believed when they came forward about violence committed against them? Or if they were treated with respect by agencies and organizations that are supposed to support survivors? Or if trans survivors engaged in sex work didn’t have to fear being criminalized themselves for reporting a crime? Or if trans women weren’t ridiculed or turned away from shelter programs when they are escaping domestic violence?
As a case manager and survivor advocate I know how important it is to make sure survivors of violence are getting support as early and as often as possible. I have seen firsthand how critical it can be to have an advocate walking with you through accessing support, care, and legal guidance. I have helped people make it through the intimidating and often retraumatizing process of a sexual assault forensic exam, find the mental health care that they need to work through their trauma, and access basic needs like clothing and food after leaving an abusive relationship. I have supported them by providing them with information to make an informed and empowered decision about what legal options they want to take, and talked through and counteracted the pain and self-blame that is deeply rooted in a victim-blaming culture. Knowing that there are many, many, trans survivors of violence in the District who aren’t accessing these services because of a long history of not being believed, respected, or supported by systems that are supposed to support survivors and victims of crime is devastating.
Instead of having to remember those we have lost, I want to create a city and a society where trans survivors can confidently access resources and support when they need it, starting with the work that we do here at NVRDC. I want to ensure that if a trans man survives a hate crime, he knows he can come to NVRDC to find out more about his rights and access legal representation if he wants to. Or if a trans woman is experiencing domestic violence, she can be partnered with a case manager who can help safety plan with her, find partner organizations that are trans-inclusive that can house her, and support and empower her in finding what options are right for her. And if a non-binary survivor of sexual assault comes to the hospital for a forensic exam and medical care, there will be an advocate there who won’t assume their pronouns without asking, will make sure the staff doesn’t misgender them, ensure that they are treated with respect, and be able to provide them with trans-inclusive sources of support and healing. Experiencing violence, whether it’s sexual assault, a hate crime, bodily injury, or domestic violence in itself can be terrifying and disempowering. If the people and systems that are supposed to support survivors aren’t respecting their identity, use the the wrong pronouns, are asking invasive questions, or disbelieving them, that can be incredibly re-traumatizing and isolating. It’s no wonder that trans survivors who meet these kinds of reactions are less likely to trust or feel comfortable accessing supportive services when they face violence. And our job at NVRDC is to make sure survivors’ healing and justice processes are as empowering as possible, and that includes making sure we are informed, vocal, and steadfast in supporting the trans survivors we work with.
Stopping violence against the trans community starts with all of us. I encourage people reading this to look inward at their lives and see what they can do to increase trans inclusion and combat transphobia. Whether it’s not assuming peoples' pronouns without asking, talking to friends or family about trans rights, or educating yourselves on the trans rights movement. Or whether that’s having your workplace attend a trans-inclusivity training or showing up with us to the Trans Day of Remembrance event being put on at the Metropolitan Church of Washington, DC. We can all do something.