On this Transgender Day of Remembrance, we honor those killed as a result of transphobia in the US in 2017.
So far this year, at least 26 transgender men and women have died from murders that appear to have been motivated by bias, from Mesha Caldwell in Canton, Mississippi to Kenne McFadden in San Antonio, Texas and Kenneth Bostick in New York City.
Experts and public health authorities increasingly recognize violence as a factor raising the risk of acquiring HIV, while also reducing the chances of an HIV-positive person living a healthy and full life. This has helped lead to a health crisis among transgender women in the US, where the rate of HIV diagnosis is three times higher than the national average. More than one in five transgender women are estimated to be HIV-positive, an alarming percentage that is even higher among women of color.
The current US National HIV/AIDS Strategy notes the need to stop violence against transgender women in order to address the prevalence of HIV among them. But missing from these discussions is that the criminal justice system is often a site where this violence against transgender people is perpetrated. Women of color and women involved in sex work are particularly likely to report high rates of arrest and incarceration.
Human Rights Watch has documented police harassment and abuse of transgender women and sex workers in multiple US cities, as well as the abuse of transgender women in US immigration detention. National Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA) data show that more than one-third of transgender people in prisons and jails report experiencing some type of sexual victimization from other prisoners or from staff. Department of Justice guidelines require prisons and jails to make decisions about the housing of transgender inmates on an individualized basis, taking inmates’ own views regarding safety considerations into account and housing them according to their gender identity “where appropriate,” but these guidelines are difficult to enforce and widely ignored.
One way to honor those who have died is to protect the rights of the living. Enforcing federal laws and policy designed to protect transgender people in our nation’s criminal justice system is an essential step.