6 transgender women have been killed in the past 5 weeks alone

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Many of them were women of color.

Last week, two transgender women were killed only a few days apart. Both women were stabbed to death.

Their deaths are the latest in a string of killings of trans women, many of them women of color, over the past five weeks. At least six trans women have died during that time period, which LGBTQ advocacy groups say is alarming.

One of the most recent victims is Nina Pop, a black transgender woman who was found dead on May 3 in her Sikeston, Missouri, apartment.

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She had been stabbed several times. Police are looking into whether her killing was a hate crime but they haven't established a motive yet and no arrests have been made, according to the Associated Press.

Another trans woman, Helle Jae O’Regan, died on May 6 after being stabbed while working at a barbershop in San Antonio.

As employees planned to reopen the shop last Wednesday, a man told workers that he wanted to make an appointment. He then left and came back to the barbershop with a gun and knife. He forced employees into the back of the shop, choked O'Regan, who passed out, and stabbed one of the other workers.

According to News4SanAntonio, two of the workers managed to escape. The man eventually stabbed O'Regan to death.

Surveillance video caught the violence. According to the barbershop's CEO, the man allegedly told the workers during the attack, "What have you done wrong? What have you done wrong? God sent me here to kill you because you have done something wrong! What have you done wrong?"

Police later arrested the man and have since charged him with murder.

At least 11 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed in 2020 so far, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks these deaths. In 2019, at least 26 trans people were victims of fatal violence, and most of them were black trans women.

At least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people died in 2018.

Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign's Transgender Justice Initiative, said in an email that the the deaths were occurring "at a rate that should be shocking and horrifying to every single person."

Cooper added that the pandemic had put marginalized people in even more danger, both in terms of their personal health and the violence they face.

"LGBTQ people are likely to face greater economic hardship during COVID-19, and the most marginalized communities are the most at risk. We have seen the health impact of this virus on communities of color, and HRC has the data to show how the LGBTQ community is struggling," Cooper said.

She added, "For those of us at the intersections of these identities, especially Black transgender women, it is even more profound."

The dangers are real: As the American Psychological Association noted recently, psychologists are concerned that intimate partner violence could ramp up during the pandemic, and the Human Rights Campaign published a research brief in March that shows LGBTQ people are more likely to work in industries with more exposure to the virus.

They are also at greater economic sensitivity to the virus, have more barriers to health care, and are more likely to have conditions that put them at higher risk for serious illnesses from COVID-19.

The discrimination transgender people face puts them at increased risk of violence, advocates for transgender equality have argued, which is partly why they're pushing Congress to pass explicit nondiscrimination protections for transgender people.

The Equality Act, which the House passed last year, would provide stronger protections for LGBTQ people against discrimination in housing, employment, education, federal programs, jury service, public accommodations, and credit and lending. Currently, only 22 states, two territories, and the District of Columbia explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Donald Trump has opposed the bill and the Senate has not taken up the legislation.

In testimony to the House Judiciary Committee last year, the National Center for Transgender Equality noted that "denying transgender people equal opportunities to thrive, stigmatizing them, and pushing them to the margins of society" caused "profound harm" and "contribute[d] to economic hardships, to health disparities, and to transgender people's vulnerabilities to violence."

Victoria Kirby York, deputy director for the Advocacy & Action Department at the National LGBTQ Task Force, said there must be more honest and nuanced conversations about the lived realities of trans people when trans people are found murdered.

"Because legal discrimination can happen in employment, it pushes so many of my friends into having to do survival sex work in order to pay their bills and in order to move from shelters to actual homes and apartments and that’s not always the safest work to do especially now because of the pandemic," she said.

"People are turning even more to dating apps for hookups and also for sex work to hire someone," she added. "I'm not saying that was the case in Nina Pop's murder but that certainly increases the amount of those situations because there are less people outside who would see a tense situation and be able to help to de-escalate. And you have more and more people dealing with intimate partner violence, which has already been high in the LGBTQ community and is already high amongst black women, cis and trans."

There isn't any formal data collection effort to understand the frequency, nature of, or extent of transgender homicides, researchers say. A 2017 article on on the subject, however, found that young transgender women of color "almost certainly face a higher chance of being murdered."

"There are currently very few explicit federal legal protections for transgender or gender non-conforming people," Cooper noted. "We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation appearing at the local, state and federal levels because it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color."

Kirby York said there's also a need to seek and enforce justice when trans women are murdered. She said more organizations and community groups need to take to the streets, as has been the case following the death of Ahmaud Arbery, a black man who was attacked by two white men while he was out jogging in Georgia.

"Far too often, police investigations stop short," she said. "[J]ustice is never received or found and if people are getting away with murdering black trans women without any real justice or organized outrage. People will go ahead and do it."

She added, "If they already see black trans women as inhuman, and see society and our laws are reflecting that as well, they have no reason to stop themselves when they attack or shoot or murder or any of the other heinous acts we've seen happen to black trans women."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.