“It’s Deadly to be Trans in America”

Essay. 20 minutes to read.


Ten black transwomen were killed in the first six months of 2019. Compared to nine fatalities in Afghanistan, it was more deadly to be black and trans in America this Spring than a US soldier fighting in Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. The death toll reflects a 17% overall spike in reported hate crimes from 2017 to 2018.

Seven of the ten transwomen were killed by gunfire. Their deaths are recorded by the Human Rights Campaign, which publishes extensive data on the surge of hate crimes directed at the LGBTQ community in the United States and worldwide. 

Last year, advocates from the Human Rights Campaign tracked the deaths of at least 26 transgender Americans and found that 1 out of 5 transgenders experienced homelessness some time in their life and many faced routine discrimination during the hiring process. Also, blacks still double whites in national poverty and unemployment rates, while women, in general, maintain an 18.9% wage gap in median weekly full-time earnings. 

Therefore, transwomen of color experience a culmination of this systemic devaluation and social ostracization. In particular, black women earn 63.5% of white male earnings while white women make 81.5%. Other than Hispanic women, black women have the lowest weekly earnings at $654 per week. Asian women earn the most in America.

These inequalities put black transwomen at the epicenter of an American society rife with social discontent and scapegoating, spiraling towards precipitous levels of prejudice since President Trump’s inauguration. 

At California State University in San Bernardino, Political scientists Kevin Grisham and Brian Levin found a 70% increase in reported hate crimes from 2010-2018 among major US cities surveyed. Levin admits that at least some of the increase is possibly the result of more rigorous reporting and not a higher frequency of crime, especially in cities with previously low numbers, however, either truth reflects a violent reality: that Americans are regressing to chaotic impulses of violence and prejudice to protect, what they believe to be, a jeopardized identity in society. 

In other words, there are only so many resources to go around, so many jobs, so many acres of land, that any change in American demographics could shift the social power structure and negatively impact the historically dominant group, the (white) hetero male.  

Control and insecurity, that’s what it breaks down to. Identity politics, or decision-making based on individual experience and preference rather than traditional party alliances, has grown to a tipping point where race, gender, religion, and sex have become the most salient factors in the formation of an individual’s political allegiance. 

Co-founder of Vox media, Ezra Klein, notes in his article, How Identity Politics Elected Donald Trump, that “demographic change, and the fears and hopes it evokes, is one of the tectonic forces shaping this era in American life.” 

For example, take the correlation between racial resentment and economic insecurity highlighted in Identity Crisis, an analysis of the 2016 election by political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler, and Lynn Vavreck. In their study, they found that voters with higher levels of racial resentment were less optimistic about the economy during President Obama’s administration. But after 2016, and the election of Donald Trump to office, this racial phenomenon flipped: the more racially resentful voters were, the better they felt about the country’s economic stability.

President Trump saw the market value in this widespread sentiment and promised to return America to the good old days when non-Hispanic whites ruled the land. 

He did this with nativism and self-preservationist rhetoric, cajoling his conservative base with xenophobic slogans like “America First” and the recycled Reagan era jingoism of “Make America Great Again,” a semantic allusion to a pestilence that only President Trump could eradicate. 

Trump spoke directly to the disenfranchised, pointing fingers at Mexican immigrants and calling a total flight ban on all Muslims in and out of the country. 

In response to Black Lives Matter, he downplayed police brutality; during the #metoo awareness campaign for sexual assault, the President’s derogatory language flooded Twitter, followed by Stormy Daniels and the Walder Frey of incestual remarks: “perhaps if she wasn’t my daughter I’d be dating her,” speaking about Ivanka Trump on an episode of The View in 2006.  

In this way, Donald Trump became the bold new demagogue of white America, further increasing the gap between white Republicans and Democrats to 54% and 39%. Before Obama’s election, the percentage was an even 44%-44% split, however, after the first black president’s election, whites became 12 points more likely to be Republican. 

Off Trump’s rebound, Hillary Clinton took the chance to garner the Hispanic and black votes of America with her “stronger together” campaign. While Clinton’s anti-Trump platform proved successful with the minority voting block, it further alienated Clinton from the white majority, and in that regard, the lion’s share of electoral votes. In effect, racial identity became the driving force of bipartisan politics.    

Such division invited the opportunity for extremism, and in the years following President Trump’s election, his nativist rhetoric has catalyzed a kind of trickle-down bigotry with a global reach. 

Enter Brenton Harrison Tarrant, a social terrorist who killed at least 50 Muslim worshippers at a Mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand.

In a 74-page manifesto distributed minutes before the attack, Tarrant asked himself “were/are you a supporter of Donald Trump?”

He answered: “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose? Sure. As a policymaker and leader? Dear god no.” 

President Trump’s reaction to the shout-out was to shift culpability by down-playing white extremism. They are “a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” he said.  

In fact, the number of hate groups operating across the United States has risen to 1,020, shattering previous records reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And in January, the Anti-Defamation League, based out of New York, said that domestic terrorists killed at least 50 people in the US in 2018, a spike from 37 in the previous year, supporting the Investigative Fund at the Nation Institute’s findings that far-right plots outnumber those of Islamist extremists 2 to 1 across the United States. 

That same hatred is being channeled towards transwomen and the LGBTQ community. Hate groups have fractured to find scapegoats that best suit their frustration. The mob of angry black men who attacked Muhlaysia Booker in Texas is an example of this. Hate attracts hate and racial bias will be replaced with other prejudices. If an individual is the product of social conditioning then unabashed bigotry is the result of political persuasion.

There’s an undeniable truth to America’s changing demographics, minority births have surpassed white births in the US as of 2013 and the LGBTQ percentage has risen to 4.5% of the population, which means white Americans will become a minority-majority group in the upcoming generation. This represents a clear and present danger to those citizens who wish to make America great again. 

How do we slow the violence down? Well, passing the Equality Act would be a good start. The bill would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Jury Selection and Services Act, to explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics. 

The good news: a Democratic-majority House passed the Equality Act on May 17, 2019, with relatively low opposition numbers, however, the Senate won’t consider the bill until 2021 and it already faces opposition from President Trump’s administration, who have claimed that “this bill in its current form is filled with poison pills that threaten to undermine parental and conscience rights.” 

Perhaps these “poison pills” have already been swallowed, and like cyanide, are disintegrating the scruples against violence towards a growing LGBTQ community. 

More alarming, however, is the President’s use of “conscience rights” in his statement. His careful diction burrows its way into the collective psychology of the American people to alter the framework of right and wrong. By fusing morality into his rhetoric, President Trump creates an invasive idea that associates the Equality Act with something ethically compromising, reinforcing the ideals of MAGA propaganda and wordsmithing.  

Aldous Huxley said it best in his essay Brave New World Revisited, “the propagandist arbitrarily associates his chosen product, candidate or cause with some idea, some image of a person or thing which most people in a given culture, unquestioningly regard as good.” In this case, it’s the white hetero male normality. 

Therefore, in the upcoming election, it’s imperative that we see through the inversions and illocutionary tricks of our presidential candidates. Propaganda will always have its place in politics but only the voters can decide who wields it. 

*as published at the NUHA Foundation:

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