2021 is on track to be the deadliest year for transgender people on record


At least six transgender people have been killed in the past three weeks.

Advocates for transgender people say they are shocked by the pace at which transgender women are being attacked and killed in just the first four months of 2021.

In the past three weeks, at least six transgender people have been killed, according to news reports and the Human Rights Campaign's tracking of violence against transgender and gender-nonconforming people, many of whom have been people of color.

On March 2, Jahaira DeAlto, remembered by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs as "a legendary transgender activist and ballroom performer," was found stabbed to death in an apartment in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, along with a woman who lived with her family in the same building and who died of stab wounds at a local hospital. The second woman's husband called 911 and said he had stabbed his wife.

On April 21, Tiara Banks, a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in Chicago.

A Black and Puerto Rican transgender woman, Natalie Smut, was stabbed to death at an apartment complex in Milpitas, California on April 23; her boyfriend called 911 and said he had stabbed her.

Tiffany Thomas, a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed at a car wash in Dallas, Texas on April 24.

On May 1, a Black transgender woman, Keri Washington, was discovered dead behind an apartment building in Clearwater, Florida, and police said they were searching for a suspect in her death.

The killing of DeAlto brings to 21 the number of known killings of transgender or gender-nonconforming people tracked by the Human Rights Campaign in 2021.

As of early May 2020, that number was 11; 44 such killings took place in all of 2020, a record high number since the organization began tracking them in 2013.

Asked whether this many violent deaths only four months into the year causes concern that the total number of killings may be higher than last year, Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director for the National Center for Transgender Equality, said, "We're absolutely concerned. Any murder is one too many, obviously. And then to think about this extensive devastation, to think that we could be not even halfway through the year and already at this many murders. It's shocking."

Heng-Lehtinen said that such killings contribute to a climate of fear for transgender people, regardless of whether they knew the victims.

"It actually instills so much fear among all trans people around the country, especially Black and Latina trans women, because so many of these people were killed because of who they are, or because they were forced into a really vulnerable, dangerous situation," he said. "So even if they weren't murdered exclusively because they're trans, even if it wasn't a hate crime in that sense of it, it's still the transphobia and discrimination of our society that pushed them to the emergency where they're vulnerable to these attacks."

He added that the pandemic has heightened the economic vulnerability that transgender people already face as a result of the employment and housing discrimination they have always experienced. As a result of job losses and housing insecurity that many people have suffered due to the pandemic, more transgender people ended up staying in abusive relationships or experiencing homelessness, putting them at further risk of violence.

"Disproportionately, trans people were being laid off from jobs that didn't even pay enough to begin with, and they're therefore ending up on the street, ending up homeless, because they can't pay the rent anymore, or ending up staying with people who may not be safe," he said.

Heng-Lehtinen said that in order to make transgender people safer, governments should enact more housing protections, increase homeless shelter access, and decriminalize the sex work that some transgender people rely on to pay the bills.

"If the activity is illegal, then it does not make the activity go away. It simply pushes it underground, and that limits people's options and it pushes people into the shadows, which is less safe in the first place," he said.

Passage of the Equality Act, a federal bill that clarifies and expands LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections, would also help to reduce violence against transgender people, he added.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.