ABOVE: Equality Florida Director of Transgender Equality Gina Duncan speaks during the “Rally to End Hate” in 2016. Photo courtesy Equality Florida
As the State Director of Transgender Equality at Equality Florida, I have been advocating for transgender civil rights for a decade. As a white, trans woman, I have never felt personally vulnerable, afraid or concerned for my personal safety until these last two years.
Recently, I have felt the weight of fear and rapid beating of my heart as I experienced being verbally attacked, intentionally misgendered and physically threatened by hate-filled people gaslighted by our current anti-transgender national rhetoric. In 2018, more than two dozen transgender Americans were reported murdered in the United States.
Those were just some of the 369 transgender people murdered around the world in the same year, marking another increase in anti-transgender murders. In fact, a transgender person was murdered on average somewhere on this planet every day. Alarmingly, Florida led the nation with five transgender women of color being murdered across our state. Three transgender women were murdered in Jacksonville, one in Orlando, and one in North Port.
This year, two more black transgender women have been murdered in Florida, and a member of the LGBTQ community currently lies in critical condition, having been beaten, tied to the bumper of a truck and dragged for over two blocks before being left for dead on the roadside. This terrifying epidemic of anti-transgender murders in Florida over a short two year period of time has spread fear throughout the transgender community and sewn mistrust with law enforcement agencies.
Law enforcement agencies play a critical role in the early stages of these violent crimes and are under tremendous pressure from the families of the victims to find the murderer of their loved one and from the community to seek justice for one of their own.
Misgendering occurs when the victim is incorrectly identified by their “deadname,” the name they used prior to transitioning, and pronouns that do not properly reflect the authentic gender identity the victim is living every day. Improperly identifying the victim to the media can lead to missteps that demean and dishonor the victim. Despite available transgender awareness training and Department of Justice-facilitated transgender cultural competency training, victims are too often misgendered by law enforcement, inaccurate information that is then passed on to the media.
Misgendering a transgender murder victim not only disrespects the victim in death but breeds an environment of mistrust between law enforcement and the trans community. The community has watched this happen time and time again across the country. When law enforcement shows a lack of understanding of gender identity and the importance of honoring one’s authentic identity regardless of what ID someone is carrying, they impede their own investigation and deter potential witnesses or community members with relevant information who fear they too will be treated inappropriately.
But, the misgendering of transgender victims of violence could be easily avoided by law enforcement being involved and engaged with the local LGBTQ community. Agencies should create LGBTQ Community Liason Teams that become a part of the community, are visible at Pride events and build trust with a community in need of agency support. Law enforcement agencies that have done this critical work are seeing the results – a deeper connection with the LGBTQ community, more access to resources following a crime and the relationships necessary to make our streets safer.
It is time for action in Florida. We can no longer sit idly by as a marginalized community is slaughtered across our state. This epidemic of anti-transgender violence against transgender people of color not only calls for increased education by law enforcement but demands that our leaders speak up, marshall resources and counter the epidemic. Elected officials on all state and local levels must denounce demeaning rhetoric aimed at the transgender and gender non-conforming community that breeds indifference in the face of discrimination and perpetuates violence. It is time to protect our most marginalized communities and forcefully reject a hostile Trump Administration bent on erasing the transgender community and stoking the flames of transphobia.
While our leaders must act with political courage, we are all called upon to build safe and inclusive communities for all members of the LGBTQ community. We do this when we refuse to accept that black transgender women are doomed to a cycle of violence due to their race or their gender identity. We must call our elected officials and demand that they address hate crimes statutes in Florida to include gender identity protections and pass a statewide comprehensive nondiscrimination law, the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, that will protect all Floridians against discrimination – regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.
Our leaders on all levels must engage in order to end this cycle of violence. That means Governor DeSantis must take the lead on protecting a transgender community that is under assault.
I want to feel safe again in Florida. I want to be able to travel across this beautiful state without facing discrimination and bigotry or fearing for my life.
Our concerns are real. The horrifying statistics are there. Where is the outrage?