Friday, July 22, 2011

New report underscores how bullying bill will protect trans New Yorkers

Post by Transgender Rights Organizer Christopher Argyros

I am mourning the news that this week we lost yet another member of the trans community to violence. A young transgender woman of color named Lashai was murdered on the street in DC. She was walking with a friend at 4:30 a.m. and after having some words with two men on the street, she was fatally shot in the back. Her friends and family described her as a kind, well-loved person that “always wanted to do the right thing to survive.”

Tragically, Lashai’s murder isn’t an isolated incident. I’ve been reviewing 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. This sobering report is the most comprehensive source of information on anti-LGBTQH (defined for this study as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) violence in the United States.

The results of the report show that transgender people, particularly trans people of color, experience disproportionately high prevalence and severity of violence in every area that was examined. For example, trans people and people of color are twice as likely to experience hate violence involving assault or discrimination, compared to other LGBQH people. And while trans people were reported to represent 8.6% of the LGBTQ population, 12 out of the 27 documented LGBTQH murders involved victims that were transgender women. This most recent horrifying murder only confirms this trend.

The report and the murder of Lashai are a reminder that deterrence and punishment through hate crimes legislation, while important, is only part of the solution to address violence targeted at transgender and gender nonconforming people. What is so clearly needed is systematic change to address and reduce hate violence. The Dignity for All Students Act, which will take effect July 2012, has the potential to be an important component in that systematic change. Likewise, passage of the proposed Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) would be another significant step in decreasing incidents of violence and promoting holistic positive change for our communities. It is my hope that this duo of enacted and proposed legislation to protect transgender New Yorkers will address many of the root causes of the elevated risk of violence experienced by trans and gender nonconforming people.

The Dignity for All Students Act prohibits harassment and discrimination against students in school, including harassment based on real or perceived gender identity and expression (as well as race, color, weight, national origin, ethnic group, religion, religious practice, disability, sexual orientation, and sex). It also sets up a framework for promoting a more positive school culture through sensitivity training and classroom curricula on diversity.

Besides obviously protecting students from violence within the school setting, the Dignity Act may also indirectly lower violence against trans and gender nonconforming people outside of schools. A 2009 report by GLSEN showed that 87% of trans high school students had been verbally harassed because of their gender expression, which in turn was found to be related to increased absenteeism, decreased educational aspirations, and lower academic performance. A hostile educational environment has also been linked to higher dropout rates among trans youth. By mandating safer schools, the Dignity Act could serve to decrease these disproportionately high rates of underperformance and dropout. You can see that this would have far-reaching effects: Trans youth would be less likely to turn to drugs, less likely to seek illegitimate forms of employment, less likely to become homeless (all problems that currently effect LGBT youth more commonly than their non-LGBT counterparts), and therefore less likely to wind up in unstable living situations and contexts that entail a higher risk of violence and suicide.

Without a doubt, there is much work to be done to educate the public and raise awareness around trans issues, and the resulting de-stigmatization of trans people will go a long way to lessen the attacks on trans people. The complimenting prong to that is the empowerment of trans individuals with educational opportunity, and all the benefits that flow from a full education, so that trans people are not put on a dangerous course at a young age. With effective implementation, I’m hopeful that the Dignity for All Students Act can work towards this positive, reformative result. All students deserve a fair chance and a safe place to learn and grow.

In my next post, I will address some of the ways that the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act will also serve to protect transgender New Yorkers from violence, through allowing greater opportunities for individual and community empowerment.

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