Post by Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros
I’ve been further considering the Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2010 report recently released by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). This sobering report is the most comprehensive source of information on anti-LGBTQH violence in the United States.
As I said in my previous post, the report and the recent murder of a young trans woman in DC, Lashai Mclean, show that anti-LGBTQH (defined for this report as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) violence continues to be rampant in the United States, with transgender people and people of color being disproportionately impacted. I am considering how our work here at the Pride Agenda, particularly our legislative campaigning, is a form of anti-violence work. As an attorney and someone committed to measurable, progressive social change, I am often questioning how changes in law actually lead to real, tangible improvement in people’s lives. I am hopeful that a civil rights bill prohibiting discrimination against transgender New Yorkers in the areas of employment, public accommodation, housing and credit will go far to improve lives in our communities, including mitigating the harassment and violence that transgender and gender nonconforming people endure.
First and perhaps most simply, is the broad and sweeping effect of such a bill on the public conscience. A trans civil rights bill will increase public awareness and send a clear message that treating transgender people as second class people is not tolerated under the law and, as the report states, such legislation can “inspire respectful attitudes...”
Second, prohibiting discrimination in the employment setting is critical in lowering violence against trans people. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 74% of trans New Yorkers have experienced harassment or mistreatment on the job, while 20% reported losing a job and 37% reported not being hired because of their gender identity or expression… and these are just the known incidents of discrimination. As a result of this discrimination and other societal barriers, trans people are five times more likely to live in poverty compared to the rest of the population.
For trans people living in poverty and facing incredible obstacles in acquiring legitimate employment due to discrimination, there is often little choice but to engage in sex work for survival; and it is widely documented that trans people are disproportionately engaged in sex work. These circumstances place trans people in elevated risk situations and in settings where violence and abuse is common. Additionally, because prostitution is illegal in New York, it is less likely that victims will report incidents of violence; this nondisclosure allows violence to continue and escalate. According to the report, five out of the 12 trans women who were murdered in 2010 were engaged in sex work at the time of their murder.
Employment is not that only area where a trans civil rights bill could improve trans people’s opportunity and indirectly mitigate violence against trans people. Prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations (that is, all places generally open to the public) will also go far in reducing the levels of violence that trans people experience.
The bill will make it illegal for the employees of such businesses to outwardly discriminate or harass (which is a form of violence) transgender customers, patients, and clients. There are also many less direct examples. Occupying a more vulnerable and less economically stable position in our society, trans people need safe and reliable access to social services. The Discrimination Survey found that an astounding 18% of transgender respondents from New York State had been homeless at one point because of their gender identity or expression. A transgender civil rights bill, properly implemented, would make public accommodations such as domestic violence and homeless shelters more accessible to trans people. As the report detailed, 20% of violent incidents occurred on the street while 35% was committed by a stranger. Providing a safe place for homeless trans people to go, free from discriminatory treatment, is critical. Likewise, ensuring that all social service providers must fulfill basic needs in a non-discriminatory manner may result in more trans people accessing these services and being better equipped to survive and overcome challenging times, without turning to dangerous means.
A bill prohibiting discrimination against trans people would not solve these problems overnight. After passage, there would be much work to do in the application and implementation. But clearly, undoubtedly, a critical component in addressing the problem of discrimination is to make it illegal and punishable. As one trans rights activist recently said to me, “To be able to stand up in the face of discrimination and say, ‘That is illegal,’ would be a very impactful and empowering statement. Right now, we don’t even have that.”