Saturday, 15 March 2014

Who Cares About Islan Nettles?

What happens when a young trans woman [ Islan Nettles] is murdered in the street, opposite a police station?


“Injustice at Every Turn,” a landmark 2011 national survey of more than 6,000 transgender people that documents widespread discrimination at all levels, found that 61% of respondents had been physically assaulted.

These statistics are the flip side to an otherwise upbeat cultural narrative in which transgender people, and perhaps trans women in particular, are gaining legal rights, public understanding, and media popularity. The truth is, every week that you hear, say, that chic retailer Barneys New York is doing an all-transgender ad campaign, or that California is letting trans students choose the gender of the sports teams they play on or the bathrooms they use, a transgender woman — usually of color — is murdered or assaulted somewhere in the United States.


Often, the murders occur in places that don’t have hate-crimes legislation. Very often, the murders go unsolved or uncharged. And often, though this is decreasing, the victims are “misgendered” by the media or law officials, being called he or by their birth names.


Why did it appear they had not taken a DNA sample from Wilson at the scene of crime, though they reportedly had to pull him off of Nettles? (The DA staffer told me that there was no blood on Wilson’s knuckles.) Why weren’t all witnesses detained and questioned? Why was there no police follow-up on Nettles while she was in the hospital? Why had no footage of the crime surfaced, even though it had occurred across from a police station covered in security cameras?

Why didn’t a detective come to the hospital?” demanded Delores Nettles, Islan’s mother, through the megaphone. “A social worker there had to call the DA’s office. I said to them, ‘Half of my child’s brain is hanging out of her head and you can’t tell me anything?’ ”


For urban gay men, especially white or middle-class ones who live in relatively safe gayborhoods, it can be a mental leap to realize that the stylish gal sashaying down the street so confidently, the one we might affectionately call a “tranny,” lives with some level of fear for her life the moment she leaves her apartment.


I remembered interviewing Laverne Cox, seven years ago for The Advocate during a roundtable to discuss the exclusion of transgender people from a federal LGB nondiscrimination bill (which tanked anyway).

I’d asked her when she felt safe. “In my house,” she’d said. “Nowhere else.”


Cox says that cisgender people can’t understand the toll that such physical and verbal abuse takes on trans women, who have high rates of depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. “People have told me on the subway that they thought I should die,” she


It took me a while to regain confidence,” she recalls. “I felt very impotent. I wish I could’ve prevented it and defended myself. Even now, years later, there’s a little voice in my head telling me to be extra-cautious wherever I go. It’s a sad way of living, and incidents like Islan’s just reinforce our paranoia and the feeling that we could be next.”


There’s another reason rates of violence against transgender women of color are so high compared to LGBTQ people at large. A 2011 survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and summarized in “Injustice at Every Turn” found that many of them live at the complicated intersection of homophobia, transphobia, violence toward women, job, workplace and healthcare discrimination, racism, police harassment, and, on top of all that, poverty. Often, for lack of other options, they become sex workers in neighborhoods or in social networks that aren’t safe to begin with. In some of the transgender murder cases of 2013, the women were not assaulted by strangers on the street but in private homes by lovers or acquaintances.


Such vulnerable lives are deeply rooted in socioeconomic insecurity, the landmark 2011 study found. Its respondents were nearly four times more likely to have an income of less than $10,000 a year than the population at large. Forty-one percent had attempted suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population, with higher rates for those who’d lost a job due to bias, were harassed or bullied in school, were very poor, or had been physically or sexually assaulted.

The group had double the national rate of unemployment, with respondents of color at four times the rate. Ninety-percent said they’d experienced some kind of on-the-job bias or harassment. Nineteen-percent had been refused housing, and 19% had been homeless at some point.

Twenty-two percent had been harassed by police, and 19% had been refused medical care because of their transgender status. And crucially, because official identification is so important in every corner of life, only 21% had been able to update all their records to match their gender identity, while 40% who presented ID that didn’t match their gender identity were harassed because of it

We’re misgendered all the time,” says Brooke Cerda, a transgender Latina who works with Herrera at the Gender Identity Project and who has been a key activist in the push to get officials to prosecute the Nettles case. “That’s our fear. That we will die and everyone will forget who we are, and at the morgue, they’ll see our pee-pee and call us a cross-dresser.


Cox thinks that transphobic violence is simply the most extreme piece of a larger problem. “It’s a symptom of discrimination that trans people face disproportionately in every element of our lives,” she says. “We need justice beyond the violence issue. We need sensitivity training and cultural competence in more schools, universities, pulpits. We need a whole revamping for boys around masculinity and what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. The feminist movement has done such a great job of re-envisioning what is possible for women, but men have been left behind. You should not need to prove your masculinity by beating someone to death.”

Author / Source: Tim Murphy at Out