Experts concerned about violence after passage of anti-trans bills

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Violence against transgender people is not slowing down, experts say — and anti-trans legislation across the country is only making things worse.

Experts say they are worried about the rate of violence against transgender people this year and the effect legislation targeting the community may have on their safety.

In the past several days alone, two transgender people were attacked in public. Nysia Armstead, a Black transgender woman, was stabbed and beaten by two women and a man at a laundromat in Washington, D.C., according to WUSA9. Footage of the incident, which happened over the weekend, was later released online.

Armstead said she was called homophobic and misogynistic slurs during the attack, which left her bleeding severely, the outlet reported. She was taken to a nearby hospital to be treated for her injuries, which required numerous stitches and staples in her arm and head. Local police are investigating the assailants' actions as a crime motivated by anti-LGBTQ bias.

A transgender man named Khleo Finnie was also attacked while riding the subway in New York City on Friday. According to the New York Daily News, Finnie when he said he was yelled at and assaulted by a man who reportedly called him a homophobic slur and said, "God don't like this" before kicking Finnie in the face.

Finnie claimed the man continued to denigrate the couple after the initial attack. According to police, Finnie then took out a knife, which the man quickly wrested from him, using it to stab Finnie and his wife, who said her clothing thankfully protected her from injury.

The man was later charged with a hate crime and and criminal possession of a weapon, the outlet reported. Finnie, however, was also charged with menacing for taking out his knife.

The attacks come amid a spike in violence against transgender people.

At least nine transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed in May alone. Overall this year, there have been at least 28 violent deaths, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

The number of violent deaths of transgender and gender-nonconforming people has already surpassed all of the deaths tracked by the Human Rights Campaign in 2019, during which 25 were killed.

Experts are concerned with the rate of violence they're seeing this year, and are worried that 2021 could be even worse than 2020, when at least 44 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed. According to the Human Rights Campaign, more trans people were killed in 2020 than any other previous year since it began recording these deaths in 2013.

There are a number of factors for why transgender people face such violence, including economic vulnerability due to employment and housing discrimination, which often leaves people in unsafe situations; anti-trans hate; and for many victims, a combination of transphobia, misogyny, and racism.

Experts say that the numerous anti-trans bills introduced this year, some of which have been signed into law, as well as anti-trans rhetoric from political leaders, has only made things worse.

States have enacted several bills that to ban transgender girls and women from playing on the sports team of their gender, including in Mississippi and Tennessee. Elsewhere this year, Arkansas became the first state in the nation to prohibit trans youth from accessing hormone treatments and puberty blockers. As a result, transgender kids were forced to speak out at statehouses and to the media to defend their rights.

Tori Cooper, HRC director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, said in an email to the American Independent Foundation, "As we continue to see a staggering level of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021, HRC remains deeply concerned about all incidents of violence against transgender people. The attacks on transgender people in New York and Washington, D.C. are extremely troubling, and we send our best wishes for a full recovery to all who were hurt."

Cooper added that the attacks, however, were "not happening in isolation."

"Dehumanizing rhetoric has real-life consequences for the community that cannot be ignored," she said. "Anti-trans stigma is fueled by what happens in the public, including lawmakers who insist on spreading lies and fear about transgender and non-binary people. It's not surprising that the same moment in which anti-trans bills are at an all-time high is the same moment in which fatal violence against transgender people is at an all-time high for this point in the year."

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality/NCTE Action Fund, said separately, "Violence against transgender people, especially Black and Latina transgender women, is devastating and on the rise. It demonstrates the widespread stigmatization, marginalization, and criminalization that many transgender people face every day."

He said things had been made worse by arguments over whether transgender people deserve to be protected from discrimination.

"When politicians debate the validity of transgender people’s basic humanity, it sends a message that we are not worthy of protection, putting us in harm’s way," Heng-Lehtinen said. "No one should have to live in that kind of fear."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.