Opinion | Transgender community faces rise in sexual assaults
Sexual assault and violence against transgender individuals, especially individuals of color, is shockingly high and goes largely unreported by mainstream media outlets. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month and as such, there is no better time to focus on the plight of an oft-marginalized, misunderstood and victimized community.
But before I tackle the issue of violence against the transgender community, it is worth clarifying our terms and dispelling persistent myths about transgender individuals.
Transgender, as defined by GLAAD, is an umbrella term to signify transsexuals, cross-dressers and other gender-variant people. Transgender individuals may identify as female-to-male or male-to-male. And not all transgender people undergo body altercation or surgery.
Such is a point worth stressing more: The media focuses far too much on the potential sex reassignment surgery. How would you feel, if in every interview you gave, someone wanted to talk about your genitals? It'd be uncomfortable, demeaning and rightly seen as objectification.
Back in January, model Carmen Carrera, was on Katie Couric's daytime show.
"Your, your, your private parts are different now, aren't they?" Couric said, at one point in the interview.
We should rightly see that as an offensive and invasive question because now you have reduced this individual down to their genitals. Which, of course, Carrera politely stated she was uncomfortable discussing.
Moreover, a transgender individual does not have Gender Identity Disorder (GID); being a transgender person does not mean you have a mental disorder. For a frame of reference, keep in mind that up until 1973, the American Psychological Association in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) still classified homosexuality as a mental disorder.
In fact, it wasn't until as late as 1986 that they dropped it completely. Yet, as short ago as 2012, GID was in the DSM.
Now, there are more myths involved, but I want to attend to the pressing issue of violence against transgender individuals and especially of transgender individuals of color.
According to GLAAD, in 2012, 53 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicides were of transgender women and 73 percent of all homicide against LGBTQ individuals was people of color.
The National Transgender Discrimination Survey has even more damning information indicating that not only is there an anti-transgender problem, but a racism problem.
"People of color in general fare worse than white participants across the board, with African American transgender respondents far worse than all others in most areas examined," the report stated, among its key findings.
What I find most alarming is how persistent and constant the discrimination is against transgender individuals from an early age involving school harassment - and by teachers, too - employment discrimination, and even police violence. Again, especially of transgender individuals of color, as they were 2.6 times more likely to face violence from police than white non-transgender individuals.
All of which leads to an alarming rate of suicide attempts - 41 percent compared to 1.6 percent for the general population.
"Nearly every system and institution in the United States, both large and small, from local to national, is implicated by this data," the report concluded.
Reporting a sexual assault is already difficult enough given the nature of the crime and rape culture, which blames the victim, but for a transgender individual who faces a heightened fear of police harassment - 46 percent of transgender individuals cite being uncomfortable seeking the help of the police - reporting becomes even more difficult.
As a start to a solution, the Department of Justice has expanded their Community Relations Service, described as a "cultural training program designed to educate law enforcement about the transgender communities they serve."
Furthermore, it should be illegal to profile based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Many transgender individuals, in police prostitution sweeps, are profiled as sex workers.
For instance, in Arizona there is a law called "manifestation of prostitution," which essentially means you can be arrested for intending prostitution by your behavior, such as engaging a passerby repeatedly in conversation. Such a vague law enables this discrimination against transgender individuals and equates them with sex workers.
"Transgender women of color are often profiled by police as engaging in sex work for simply being outside and going about their daily routines," the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said.
Or, as those in the community refer to as, "walking while trans."
Monica Jones, a transgender woman of color and activist, was recently arrested under this vague law and found guilty. She will now be sent to a male prison for 30 days.
"I have been harassed by police four times since my initial arrest last May. The police have stopped me for no real reason when I have been walking to the grocery store, to the local bar, or visiting with a friend on the sidewalk," she told the ACLU.
Some at this point may be thinking this all just political correctness and sensitivity overload. That there are proper terms to use or certain questions that should be off-limits signals to people that they should be walking on the proverbial eggshells when dealing with transgender individuals.
However, that is not the case at all. Instead, getting informed about a greatly marginalized and victimized community should not cause you to recoil. Negating your ignorance about the lives transgender people live and the struggles they experience should be a worthwhile pursuit.
All of this is about looking beyond ourselves and gaining a measure of decency with respect to our fellow human being.
"Sometimes it helps to think of gender as a spectrum instead of a binary where everyone fits neatly into two little boxes," Soraya Nadia McDonald said in The Washington Post.
I believe people are generally good and in the expression of being generally good, they can be proactive in dismantling the status quo that defines our identities.
In doing so, we only serve to be more welcoming and inclusive of our fellow human beings.
Check out Carmen Carrera on Katie Couric's show below:
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