Advocates urge Biden to declare national emergency over killings of trans people

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The first session of the White House's Interagency Working Group on Safety, Inclusion, and Opportunity for Transgender Americans was held on July 21.

Transgender advocates have told the White House that more needs to be done to tackle the ongoing epidemic of violence against transgender people in the U.S.

Advocates for transgender equality met with White House officials on July 21 to discuss what needs to be done to improve the safety and well-being of transgender people.

It was the first in a series of listening sessions to be held by the Interagency Working Group on Safety, Inclusion, and Opportunity for Transgender Americans, an initiative announced by the White House on June 30, the final day of Pride Month.

The White House said in its announcement:

The Working Group will include participants from the Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Health and Human Services, Education, Homeland Security, Labor, Interior, Veterans Affairs, and Defense. The Interagency Working Group will review policies that are upstream drivers of violence and poverty for transgender individuals, including homelessness, employment discrimination, violence and abuse, and bullying and rejection at school. The Department of State and USAID will also participate to strengthen their efforts to protect transgender individuals from violence and discrimination around the world. To help inform the priorities of the Working Group, in the coming weeks the White House will host listening sessions with transgender women of color and transgender advocates to hear their policy recommendations for advancing safety, opportunity, and inclusion.

Ruby Corado, the founder of Casa Ruby, an LGBTQ bilingual and multicultural nonprofit organization that provides social services in Washington, D.C., said she told White House officials that the ongoing killings of transgender people across the country called for the declaration of a national emergency.

"My personal ask, as someone who has worked in this community for 30 years — and I don't see 100% improvement in how the killings of our people shape every day — I asked and I told all of the staff that was there, I said, 'I would like the president to declare a national emergency on the killing and the violence that trans women of color are facing right now,'" Corado told the American Independent Foundation. "That's an epidemic of violence in the same way we dealt with the epidemic of COVID. This is an epidemic of violence against a group that is really vulnerable."

She added, "I really think that declaring a state of emergency will mobilize resources, much-needed resources. We have the largest shelter run by Black and brown women, trans women of color, in the United States. And yet, you know, we continuously fight to keep the doors open."

In its July 23 summary of the session, the White House noted that participants had included Tori Cooper, director of engagement for Human Rights Campaign's Transgender Justice Initiative; Andy Marra, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund; Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition;, and Sage Dolan-Sandrino, a fellow with the National Black Justice Coalition.

Domestic policy adviser Susan Rice and Julissa Reynoso, co-chair of the Gender Policy Council, were also present; Salcedo said that Harold Phillips, the recently appointed director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, was also at the session.

Corado's push for declaration of a national emergency comes as advocates for LGBTQ people note that the number of violent deaths of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in 2021 is on track to match or outpace even the record high number recorded in 2020.

At least 31 transgender or gender-nonconforming people have been killed this year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Last year, there were at least 44 such deaths, the highest number the organization had seen since it began tracking in 2013.

The most recent violent death of a transgender person recorded by the Human Rights Campaign was that of Taya Ashton, a 20-year-old Black transgender woman who was killed in her home in Maryland on July 17.

"Just in the last year, I have attended more funerals than I have graduations. Something is wrong with that picture in America. We have young Americans losing their lives only because of who they are," Corado said. "And I want to see this epidemic go away the same way we're fighting COVID, and we are taking steps. I want an investment. I believe the federal government can spearhead that investment because we all pay for this violence."

Salcedo said that the issue of violence against transgender people came up throughout the listening session.

During his campaign for president, Joe Biden repeatedly indicated that he would make stopping violence against transgender people a priority. At an ABC News town hall in October 2020, he said, "There should be zero discrimination. And what's happening is too many transgender women of color are being murdered. They're being murdered." He told Philadelphia Gay News that same month that as president he would direct federal resources toward preventing the violence.

In March 2021, Biden issued a proclamation on Transgender Day of Visibility that said, "The crisis of violence against transgender women, especially transgender women of color, is a stain on our Nation's conscience."

During the session at the White House, advocates brought up issues of police violence against transgender people, homelessness, the treatment of transgender people in prisons and jails, and the poor health of transgender women held in immigration detention, Corado and Salcedo said.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.