by Elizabeth Kirchoff
The rights of Transgender People are in danger. Article One of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), states that “all peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.” This is a human right, thus belongs to all peoples, yet Transgender people are all too often deprived of this right and many more through discrimination, oppression, and even violence.
For example, a recent study from the NCAVP (National Coalition of Anti-Violence programs) shows the number of Transgender people murdered in the US in 2014 increased by 11.1% since 2013. At least twenty Transgender people were murdered in the U.S. last year alone, and there have been at least sixteen murdered thus far in 2015. Further, 55% of these homicide victims were Transgender Women of Color, even though both Transgender victims and survivors constituted just 18.88% of all reports (Ahmed).
Physical violence is not the only way the rights of Transgender people are violated. One important negative consequence of transphobia is detrimental healthcare opportunities for Transgender people. According to a study by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, gathering data from 6450 respondents, 28% of participants reported experiencing harassment in medical settings (Grant). Also, one in two individuals reported encountering a lack of medical provider knowledge — to such levels that participants had to teach healthcare professionals how to provide transgender healthcare. Perhaps worst, nearly one in five (19%) respondents were refused care, “specifically due to their gender identity” (Grant).
Another crucial finding showed a 1:4 ratio gap in the HIV infection rates between the U.S. national rate and Transgender rate, (0.6% and 2.64%) respectively. Rates of HIV infection are even higher among Transgender People of Color, with 24.90% of African-American, 10.92% of Latino/a, 7.04% of American Indian, and 3.70% of Asian-American respondents reporting being HIV positive (Grant).
Needless to say, such extreme and persistent violations of human rights can also take a serious toll on the social, emotional, and intellectual life of Transgendered people, and unfortunately they often do. One study found that 41% of study participants reported having attempted suicide, as opposed to the US general population rate of 1.6%, with rates increasing in correlation with negative life experiences such as a lost job due to bias, 55%; physical assault, 61%; or sexual assault, 64% (Ahmed).
And so, faced with these horrific facts, we ask ourselves, “What are the solutions?” An abundance of organizations have already offered guidance for effectively protecting and preserving the health, happiness, and safety of Transgender people. These include, but are not limited to:
1. Being an Ally. PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) offers a well-written, accessible guide to being a Trans Ally* (Parents).
2. Hiring Transgender people. The NCAVP recommends, “Economic empowerment programs, including jobs programs and resume building specifically for transgender women of color,” as well as, “Increasing the cultural competency and awareness of the media to address hate violence,” and adds that “A lack of visibility of transgender people of color contributes to the culture of violence against transgender women of color” (Ahmed).
3. Saying No to homophobia and transphobia. The UN directs us to, “Make sure you and those around you have zero tolerance for any form of homophobic or transphobic violence, including aggressive and threatening verbal abuse.” Perhaps equally important, it is further recommended to, “Speak out and report all such violence, even when it does not regard you directly.” A line of communication for reporting violence is also provided:
“If you or your friends or family members were a victim of hate-motivated violence alert UN human rights special procedures by sending an email to [email protected]” (United). It is clear at this point in history that every voice justice can get is needed in order to safeguard and protect the human rights of all people, especially those who identity as Transgender. I argue that a revolution is needed in every human heart, such that ignorance, cruelty, and hate are healed by basic human values such as universal tolerance, compassion, truth, and trust. As Aung Sun Suu Kyi said, “The quintessential revolution is that of the spirit” (Suu Kyi).