Even though Pride Month has come and gone, more work is required to extend unadulterated equity to the queer community. As a 2021 UCLA study reported, violence against trans people is on the rise, with trans people being four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime — a statistic which is often inaccurate, as many trans people, especially trans people of color, may be wary of interacting with law enforcement and reporting the crime to the police.
As of the time of writing this article in early June, at least 12 trans people have been violently killed this year alone: Jasmine Mack, KC Johnson, Unique Banks, Zachee Imanitwitaho, Maria Jose Rivera Rivera, Chashay Henderson, Tortuguita, Tasiyah Woodland, Ashley Burton, Koko Da Doll, Banko Brown, and Ashia Davis. Nearly all of them are people of color, and the majority are Black trans women.
Many people looking at these statistics may be tempted to dismiss this violence as a product of the lives these trans people “chose” to lead. A sense of moral superiority accompanies these hand-waved explanations, which are based on the insidious implication that all of the contributing factors to a trans person’s violent death were not only within that person’s control, but chosen for themselves.
Here, the phrase “high-risk” and “lifestyle” are often intentionally misused, wielded to reinforce these assumptions. This overwhelming attitude that these deaths are an unfortunate consequence of the “risky lifestyles these people lead” is another way of reassuring everyone that these deaths are not to be taken as canaries in the genocide coal mine, but merely as cautionary tales of what befalls those who dare to live in defiance of the norm.
This narrative is designed to quash the outrage and panic that ought to accompany revelations of rampant violence. This narrative is designed to reframe these deaths as merely part of the natural order of society — a sign that society is functioning as intended.
It bears repeating: No violence should ever indicate that society is working as intended.
This article from the Human Rights Watch, titled “I Just Try to Make It Home Safe,” reported: “Reports suggest that bias-motivated crimes targeting transgender individuals are increasing, and incidents when transgender people narrowly escape violence, where transgender people are reluctant to report violence to police for fear of revictimization, or where law enforcement officers fail to document and respond to violence mean that estimates almost certainly undercount the scope and prevalence of these crimes.”
It is true that trans people, especially Black trans women, endure disproportionately dangerous day-to-day lives. Some data indicate that 41% of Black trans people reported experiencing homelessness at some point in their lives, that 34% reported a household income of less than $10,000 per year, and that over 20% reported living with HIV. Facing similarly disproportionate rates of employment, education, and housing discrimination, it is flatly ridiculous to imply that any of these conditions ought to be attributed to “high-risk lifestyle choices” from trans people of color.
Circumstances aside, it should already be a red flag that the focus in debates like these is on the role of the victims rather than the people committing the violence. Fixating on the demographic facing violence allows the people actually responsible for that violence to go completely unexamined, or worse, taken for granted and normalized. Efforts to stop violence should focus at least as much, if not more, on the attackers and murderers as on the targets of their violence. Still, the target-focused, victim-blaming paradigm holds sway even in many of the most socially-liberal debate spaces.
As conservative Americans stir anti-trans hate, that hate becomes institutionalized through legislation and normalized through politics. As the trans legislation tracker helpfully reports, over 500 anti-trans bills targeting access to health care, education, legal validity, or peaceful public existence have already been introduced this year. Peddled on the premise of protecting the public from “dangerous” trans people who are blatantly slandered as dangerous to children, these bills fuel the fire of anti-trans hate and all but directly justify violence of all kinds against trans people, much the same as the legislation that came out of the so-called “War on Drugs” served to justify violence against people of color. Codifying hatred in legal proceedings lends affirmation and even encouragement to anyone looking for an excuse to be violent.
So long as politicians are permitted to outright fabricate the most damaging slander possible against a demographic, so long as hate is legitimized through legislation, the violence will continue to increase, and more trans people of color will be attacked. To learn more about the bills active in your state and get involved in pushing back, visit https://translegislation.com/.
What’s Happening at Home: Missouri Legislation Attacks Transgender Health Care and Sports
The Missouri Legislature has already proposed 48 anti-LGBTQ bills this year, trailing behind only Texas. If enacted, two of the proposed changes that have gained the most traction, and raised the most controversy and concern, will restrict access to gender-affirming care as well as place restrictions on transgender girls and women participating on women’s school sports teams.
According to The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Mental Health, 54% of transgender and nonbinary youth reported they seriously considered suicide in the last year, and 29% have attempted to end their lives. Restricting access to gender-affirming care directly opposes professional medical recommendations and can further threaten the mental health and lives of transgender and gender-expansive youth.
On April 13, Attorney General Andrew Bailey announced an emergency rule to ban transgender people of all ages from accessing gender-affirming care and medical treatment such as puberty blockers, hormone replacement therapy, and gender-affirming surgeries.
The rule cited provisions of the Missouri Merchandising Practices Act – which is designed to protect consumers from untruthful, misleading, and unfair business practices – as justification. However, before it was set to go into effect on April 27, it was challenged by both a state judge, who issued a temporary restraining order on the rule, and a lawsuit.
On April 24, Missouri American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Lambda Legal, and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP attorneys sued to block the rule, arguing that Bailey lacks the authority to utilize a state consumer-protection law rule this way. The rule was abruptly (and silently) withdrawn by Bailey on May 16 and immediately listed as terminated on the Missouri Secretary of State’s website.
Despite the successful termination of this rule, a complete ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors and some adults, as well as restrictions on transgender women’s sports, will move forward. On June 7, Gov. Mike Parson signed multiple bills into law, including Senate Bill (SB) 39 and SB 49.
SB 39, sponsored by Sen. Holly Rehder of District 27, prevents transgender girls and women from participating on teams that align with their gender identity. These restrictions would apply to all public, charter, and private schools, as well as the state’s colleges.
According to the bill:
Any private school, public school district, public charter school, or public or private institution of postsecondary education that violates this act shall not receive any state aid or other revenues from the state. The parent or guardian of any student, or any student who is over eighteen years old, who is deprived of an athletic opportunity as a result of a violation of the act shall have a cause of action for injunctive or other equitable relief as described in the act.
In a recent KCUR podcast, Sen. Greg Razer, who is openly gay and has shown strong opposition to the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills in Missouri, said that only five of the 311,000 Missouri students participating in junior high or high school sports are transgender. Additionally, both the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA) and the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) already have guidelines on sports participation for transgender athletes.
Further, the Missouri Independent reports that MSHSAA’s board policy requires transgender athletes to be taking puberty-suppressing medication or hormones for at least one year for them to compete according to their gender identity. The NCAA’s updated policy follows a series of phases, all of which are specific to the sport, attempting to achieve “a balance of fairness, inclusion, and safety.”
SB 49, sponsored by Sen. Mike Moon of Ash Grove, prohibits health care providers from performing gender transitions on any minor. The bill also stipulates that until August 28, 2027, health care providers are prohibited from prescribing or administering cross-sex hormones or puberty-blocking drugs to a minor for a gender transition. As a compromise, a provision was added that minors already receiving such treatment prior to August 28, 2023, will be exempt.
The bill states that the MO HealthNet program (Missouri Medicaid) will not cover gender transition surgeries, cross-sex hormones, or puberty-blocking drugs for the purpose of a gender transition. Additionally, health care services provided to incarcerated individuals cannot include gender transition surgeries.
Supporters of the bill, including Parson, claim the measures are intended to protect children, with Republican Rep. Brad Hudson stating it’s time for the government to get involved due to “kids being surgically and or chemically altered for life for no good reason.”
However, gender-affirming care, including medical and mental health treatments and social support, is supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and numerous other medical associations, health care professionals, and transgender advocates. While puberty blockers and hormone therapy are common treatments, it is rare for minors to undergo any form of transition surgery while they are under the age of 18.
“Safe Haven” Resolution in Kansas City Offers Hope for the Road Ahead
Despite the onslaught of hate in recent legislation, the work being done by local and national advocates offers a glimmer of hope. On May 11, Kansas City Council approved a resolution declaring the city a safe haven for gender-affirming care.
In April, Kansas City’s LGBTQ Commission introduced the resolution to the City Council in preparation for the impending ban so the city could be proactive, rather than reactive. The resolution was sponsored by Andrea Bough, representing the 6th District; Eric Bunch, representing the 4th District; and Mayor Quinton Lucas.
According to the resolution text, City personnel shall not criminally prosecute individuals or organizations for providing, seeking, or receiving gender-affirming care, or for assisting another individual in doing so. In the event of laws or regulations passed in the state imposing punishments or penalties for these actions, such as those passed in June, City personnel are instructed to make enforcement of said regulation “their lowest priority.”
City personnel are also encouraged not to respond to any request for information related to the requesting jurisdiction’s laws or regulations imposing criminal punishment or other penalties on individuals or organizations providing, seeking, or receiving gender-affirming care.
Per the resolution, the City will not participate in arresting or detaining anyone for these reasons. However, because Kansas City does not have control over its police department, the resolution only encourages the Kansas City Police Department – which has a violent history with trans women of color and other marginalized individuals – to take similar action.
KCPD Chief Stacey Graves said in a statement that the police department “plays no role” in the law changes brought by SB 49 and that KCPD “will continue to serve all the members of the community equitably regardless of race, ethnicity, age, religion, gender, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation.”
Following the passage of SB 49, the LGBTQ Commission of Kansas City stated in a tweet:
“The sanctuary status of Kansas City still stands, the commitment by the county prosecutor still stands, and the KCPD policy stating the enforcement is out of their jurisdiction still stands. We believe that it’s time to ask for the DOJ to step in now.”
Though support from legislators and government officials is necessary for this battle, the true champions of the pushback against anti-LGBTQ legislation in Missouri are the trans advocates working tirelessly to dispel dangerous myths surrounding and serving as justification for these bills.
Stacy Cay, a local comedian and model, testified to Missouri House Committee Republicans regarding the ban on gender-affirming care, using her own experience to underscore the importance of transgender voices in this ongoing battle. A rural Arkansas native, she described memories of wanting to be a girl as early as two years old. When she told her parents, she was immediately isolated from school and church and sent to a conversion camp as a teenager.
Once she graduated from college and established her own health care, she immediately started estrogen. Within a week, she felt “substantially happier,” regretting only that she had not been able to start hormones earlier. “It haunts me,” she stated, referring to both the amount of time it took to finally live freely as a woman, and the memory of two closeted transgender friends who lost their lives as they did not have the same opportunity to transition.
“This is not the role of the government,” Cay continued in her testimony. “This should be decided by their doctors, their parents, and the children themselves. I find it offensive that some of the representatives here refer to my health care as ‘abuse’ or ‘mutilation.’ The only abuse I received has been from people preventing me from receiving this care.”
Cay called out the fact that no transgender people serve on the Committee and that no transgender people have come to show support for this bill, while she and others have come to publicly oppose it. “Instead of asking other non-trans people about trans health, maybe ask us for once,” Cay said, before informing the Committee she was open to questions.