But it is still dangerous to be a transgender person in America.
Some transgender men and women are visibly different, which means that sometimes other people notice us, particularly when we are at the beginning stages of our gender transition. Not only can our appearance not look stereotypically male or female, but more likely our identity documents may not have caught up with our transition. In a post-9/11 world, these documents matter, and if a transgender person has a driver's license or school ID that has a gender marker or name that does not match with their identity and gender expression, this can lead to being asked invasive and uncomfortable questions, outright denial of service or employment — and in some cases — harassment, physical violence, sexual assault, or murder.
Add racism and poverty to the mix, and it can be a deadly combination. Young transgender women of color face some of the most brutal consequences. Although there is slow-growing acceptance of transgender people and a recent uptick in visibility with the help of such celebrities as Chaz Bono, this stands in stark contrast to the experiences of young transgender women of color.
In the past few months, several such women have been killed due to what is most likely hate-motivated violence. Some of these women included Deoni Jones, who was stabbed in the head while waiting for a bus; Coko Williams, who was shot outside her home; Brandy Martell, who was shot while sitting in her car; Paige Clay, who was shot in the head and found dead in an alley; and, just a few weeks ago, Lorena Escalera, who died in her apartment from a suspicious fire. This is not just a bad spell of violence for transgender women; this is an ongoing epidemic. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, in 2010, transgender women made up 44 percent of the 27 murders related to hate violence against the LGBTQ community reported nationally.
What has shifted slightly in the past year has been coverage of these cases by the mainstream media. Some reporters are helping to show the humanity of those lost by including stories from friends and family about how loved and cherished they were, and how much they will be missed. This type of reporting is challenging the idea that transgender women are not valued.
Just a few years ago, media coverage labeled transgender women as "men in dresses" and "perverts," and insinuated that they were responsible for their own deaths. There is still some use of incorrect terminology in reporting today, as well as inappropriate disclosure of past names, but a number of more recent stories focus on the fact that violence and discrimination against transgender people has a ripple effect on all of us. Family and friends have lost someone they loved, and society has lost that person's potential for greatness.
There is still a mountain of work to be done to better the lives of transgender youth and adults. In addition to non-discrimination protections on the state and federal level, there is a need for real economic opportunities. The 2009 National Transgender Discrimination survey found that transgender respondents were at double the rate of unemployment and nearly four times more likely to be living off an income of less than $10,000 year than the general population. Long-term discrimination has lasting economic effects on communities, and there is an immediate need to lift transgender people out of crushing poverty.