This week, writer and MSNBC host Janet Mock noted on her blog that at least six trans women have been killed in the United States since the start of 2015. The magnitude of the violence is astounding, as is its pace: By this time last year, no homicides of trans women had been reported.
Of the women killed these past seven weeks, five were trans women of color. On her blog, Mock offered her take on why violence against this community is pervasive and why there’s so much confusion around how to best confront it: “Trans women are targeted because we exist at vulnerable intersections of race, gender and class. My sisters are vulnerable because no one movement has ever centered the bodies, lives and experiences of these women, except for the severely underfunded, largely volunteer-staffed work of organizations run by and for our communities.… Trans women of color dangerously fall in between the cracks of racial justice, feminist and LGbt [sic] movements.”
A new collaboration between the national, California-based Transgender Law Center (TLC) and the grassroots LGBTQ organization Southerners on New Ground (SONG) has the potential to help bridge these movement gaps, and in a region that needs the added support. Nearly a third of LGBTQ people in the United States live in the South, and of the six trans women killed this year, three lived in Southern states—Texas, Louisiana and Virginia. SONG focuses on anti-criminalization and safety within the South’s LGBTQ communities, what its co-director Caitlin Breedlove calls “life and death issues.” I spoke with Breedlove last week to learn more about the partnership, TLC@SONG, which will place two new TLC hires with a legal and policy focus alongside SONG staffers in Atlanta. This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
DMcC: What’s an example of something that’s come up for a SONG member that might be handled differently once the partnership with TLC is launched?
CB: There is nothing comparable to the kind of basic Know Your Rights information that TLC provides to trans and gender non-conforming people in California. So we’re going to start providing resources through all of our networks.
In Greensboro, North Carolina, a black trans man was stopped and harassed severely by police because he was afraid when he was first asked for his license. He hesitated because he knew the gender on his ID didn’t match how he was being perceived. In his hesitation, [police] assumed bad intent, made him get out of the car, humiliated him. And that’s exactly the kind of case where the police have no right to be doing that to people because they are black and trans. If and when we have legal and policy capacity, we can give our members a choice to say, “Would you like to actually fight this to the full extent of law?”