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2021 is now the deadliest year on record for transgender people

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Originally published by The 19th

By Orion Rummler, Kate Sosin

The list of names now is longer than it’s ever been. 

With nearly two months left, 2021 has shattered the record of transgender homicides in a year with 45 to date — most of them Black or Latinx — according to the Human Rights Campaign. Last year held the previous record with 44 trans murders. 

Marquiisha Lawrence, a 28-year-old Black transgender woman in South Carolina, was killed on November 4. In a statement, Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative for HRC, called Lawrence’s death a tragic milestone, for her and for a community that deeply loved her. 

“We must commit to honoring trans lives and ending the horrific epidemic of violence that plagues our community,” Cooper said. “Marquiisha deserved nothing less than our full commitment to building a better future for trans people.”

The transgender writer and activist Raquel Willis called the news demoralizing and expected given the lack of investment in trans communities of color in recent years. 

“I think that there have been consistent failures at addressing transgender people and the system of oppression that we’re constantly facing,” Willis said. “Overwhelmingly, the leadership of our largest LGBTQ pride organizations are not Black and Brown trans women, or people in particular, and overwhelmingly they are not addressing our needs.”

Four more Black trans people were killed this year than last year, per HRC data. 

In a tweet Tuesday night, White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre called the killings “unacceptable.” 

“Our hearts are with all who knew and loved the 45 people who have been killed this year,” she wrote. “The march to end this epidemic of violence continues.”

David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said that providing financial support for Black trans women and decriminalizing sex work — which many trans women must turn to when denied other forms of employment — is an important part of addressing the underlying inequalities that leave trans women of color vulnerable to violence.

“At the core for me, it’s about acknowledging that trans folks are often economically disadvantaged, much like other Black, queer, nonbinary non-conforming folks to no fault of their own,” he said. 

Johns also said that the Biden administration needs to ensure that Black trans people are protected under existing hate crime laws.

Lawrence’s death comes as transgender communities across the world prepare to honor transgender homicide victims for Transgender Day of Remembrance, an annual vigil on November 20 for those slain living their truths. The somber event often includes a reading of the names of the dead, a list that grown longer in recent years as anti-transgender violence has spiked due to discrimination that advocates say has been fueled by an anti-trans political climate. 

More anti-trans bills were passed in 2021 than in any other year, with nine bills cracking down on transgender youth participation on extracurricular sports and another limiting adolescent access to gender-affirming medical care. Advocates have repeatedly raised concerns this year that language in those bills — which often characterizes trans girls as boys — would spur more violent attacks against trans people.

The tally of transgender murder victims has increasingly been common practice since the stabbing of Rita Hester in Boston in 1998. The death of Hester, who was misgendered by both mainstream and LGBTQ+ media, inspired transgender activist Gwendolyn Ann Smith to launch a website honoring those killed. The site would, in turn, spur Transgender Day of Remembrance as well as the practice of taking stock of those lost to violence. 

But advocates warn that such totals can be flawed. In 2018, LGBTQ+ media organization GLAAD cautioned news outlets from sensationalizing stories about “the deadliest year on record for transgender people” without context. The organization pointed out that anti-trans murders often go inaccurately reported because of misgendering by police and media. As law enforcement and media have become more sensitive to trans people, reporting has improved, sometimes increasing visibility of those killed, advocates said

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