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Experts: Hateful rhetoric, fear drive rising crime against transgender people

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Experts: Hateful rhetoric, fear drive rising crime against transgender people
Demonstrators protest while holding a large transgender pride flag as the Supreme Court hears oral arguments in three cases on LGBTQ discrimination protections in Washington in 2019. File Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo

July 28 (UPI) -- As transgender and non-binary Americans face increasing levels of reported violence, coupled with a host of new anti-trans laws and policies, advocates say it's more important than ever to expand trans rights in all facets of life.

The Human Rights Campaign, which compiles data based on grass-roots community reports and news articles, says at least 21 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed this year. For all of 2021, there were at least 57 deaths -- up from 44 in 2020 -- making it the deadliest year on record.

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Since 2013, 77% victims of such crimes have been transgender women of color.

Tori Cooper, the director of HRC's Transgender Justice Initiative, said transgender and non-binary communities are "disproportionately affected by fatal violence" compared to cisgender Americans. She blames this on the fear many people have of those who are different from them, as well as hateful and harmful rhetoric in society.

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"This horrific violence is fueled by racism, toxic masculinity, misogyny and transphobia," she said in a statement on the HRC website.

Speaking to UPI, Cooper said the old adage that "sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me" simply isn't true.

"We can't ignore that rhetoric is harmful," she said, because it gives power to people who wish to do harm and didn't feel empowered to do so before.

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The HRC notes it's difficult to compile accurate statistics regarding anti-trans crime because such incidents are often misreported or unreported.

"Additionally, a number of other barriers often contribute to the underreporting of hate crimes, including distrust between targeted communities and law enforcement and uncertainty about law enforcement responses," the organization's 2021 Epidemic of Violence report says.

Caroline Medina, associate director of the LGBTQI+ Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress, praises the Biden administration for making efforts to increase better data collection on transgender Americans -- not just regarding violence, but also health and economic indicators.

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"The lack of good, quality data on LGBTQI+ folks, in particular transgender folks ... is hugely important, and we need greater investments in it across the board," she told UPI.

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President Joe Biden, for example, signed into law the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act in May 2021, which included a measure -- the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act -- to put resources toward improving hate-crime reporting. The legislation was named for Heather Heyer, an anti-racism protester killed in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017, and Khalid Jabara, a Lebanese immigrant killed in Oklahoma in 2016.

A report by the Williams Institute at the University of California Los Angeles School of Law in May 2021 found that transgender people are four times more likely to be the victim of a crime than cisgender people. With violent crimes, transgender people are 4.5 times more likely to be a victim and transgender women are 2.5 more likely to be the target of a hate crime than cisgender women. Transgender individuals are twice as likely to face property crime.

Meanwhile, half of all violent crimes were not reported to police, the institute determined.

"Research has shown that experiences of victimization are related to low well-being, including suicide thoughts and attempts," said Ilan H. Meyer, study author and distinguished senior scholar of Public Policy at the institute.

In addition to harmful rhetoric, Cooper said efforts made by lawmakers to marginalize and strip away rights of transgender and non-binary Americans have also worked to fuel violence. She said legislative bodies and school districts impose laws and policies restricting where transgender people can use the bathroom, banning them from sports and censoring information about them in schools in order to "create this sense of fear."

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Earlier this year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered that parents who provide transgender care for their children be investigated for child abuse, causing some of the state's transgender healthcare programs to shut down. Eighteen states have laws or rules that ban or restrict transgender competitors in sporting events. Even schools are implementing anti-trans policies, with some banning books about transgender issues and teachers from discussing the topic, and ending gender-affirming services.

Cooper described such efforts as being the product of the "loud minority."

"The opposition fights against the rights of transgender people because they don't see us as human or worthy voters or worthy of protection," she said. "They're using fear to create this false narrative that transgender people are out to hurt people that's not true."

And the very act of proposing policies -- even if they're not enacted -- works to subject transgender and gender non-conforming people to mental distress, Medina said, citing Trevor Project data that suggests that a majority of LGBTQI youth reported that debates over such issues have negatively impacted their mental health.

Medina said combatting violence toward transgender and gender non-conforming communities goes beyond just stopping the perpetrators, it involves a broader look at a variety of issues, including healthcare and the economic factors.

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"You have to look at expanding transgender rights in a really comprehensive way," she said.

Cooper echoed the call for protections for people across the board, "evening the playing field for transgender and non-binary people."

She called for easier access for people to be able to change their names and gender markers, better crime reporting, access to information about the LGBTQ community for children in school, quality healthcare and equal access to jobs.

Increasing visibility and acceptance in society at large, Cooper said, will minimize fear and violence toward those previously seen as "different."

"We need to really consider how important common sense is and how it should prevail in our decision-making processes," she said.

"When we get rid of diversity, then we are forced to only see ourselves and that is certainly not how I believe God created us to be."

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