Editor's note: this story was edited on 4/19/15 for content and clarity
In popular media, sometimes bigger issues can get steamrolled in an attempt to put a pretty face on an ugly thing. For example, gay marriage has become the frontrunner issue for LGBTQA+ rights, and while gay marriage is important, it's also important to acknowledge the struggles of the rest of the community. For example, transgender and gender non-conforming individuals face an incredible amount of violence and discrimination at every turn, and the media does not pay attention. Transgender individuals need rights and support as much as anyone else— and the only way we can do that is by increasing awareness of transgender issues, especially the ones that are ignored and forgotten about.
Daily violence is the biggest problem that transgender people face, with murder rates in the hundreds every year, according to at least six transgender women have been killed in the US. These violent tendencies can also lead to suicide. At the beginning of the year, transgender girl Leelah Alcorn, after being harassed by her family to the point of committing suicide, became an internet sensation. The hashtag #HerNameWasLeelah and #TransLivesMatter spread around social media site as advocates for transgender rights spoke out about trans suicide. Roughly one third of transgender kids attempt or commit suicide.
But there's still one group that sustains a large portion of transgender violence and with significantly less publicity, and that is transgender people of color. Transphobia and racism combine with the already present sexism in our society to create a culture that disregards the enormous amount of violence and injustice that they face. They are especially targeted by members of the police, as many transgender women are unfairly arrested for defending themselves or murdered for nonexistent reasons. Advocate.com posted a list of such tragedies that have occurred over the last couple of years. Despite this, the media is far less likely to pay them any attention. "Trans people of color face disproportionately high murder and violence rates compared to our white counterparts… While everyone is quick to circulate petitions online in Leelah's name and be distinguished as allies for the trans community, why do they continue to turn a blind eye to the lives and deaths of trans women of color?" wrote Black Girl Dangerous in a blog post in January.
Legislation also contributes to the problem. For example, California is the only state to have officially banned the trans or gay panic defense, which would make someone's gender identity or sexual orientation a legitimate reason for murder in a court. New legislation is being passed all the time, including a new law in Kentucky that would bar transgender students from using the bathroom of their true gender.
This violence and hatred is not getting any better because barely anyone knows about or talks about the things that transgender people face. Transgender people need more representation. This doesn't just mean more coverage of events or more social justice movements, but also representation in television, movies, books and any other form of popular entertainment. Although there has been a lot more transgender representation in the media (Laverne Cox's character in Orange is the New Black or Michelle Hendley in 2014 movie Boy Meets Girl), representation could do a lot more to show transgender people that they are not alone in their gender identity or in the things that they face. "You look for people that are respected, people that are taken seriously, people that are a part of things, and that can be very isolating when you look for yourself and you're not there," says writer and transgender activist Paris Lees in a US News Article.
Unless people are educated about the important issues that transgender individuals face, there will not be effective change within our country. Legislation and media representation are the most important ways that people can help create a more positive environment for transgender individuals. This is not a question of politics or what makes the best news story—it's a question of basic human rights.
Sarah Trunk. Hello! I'm Sarah, and I'm one of the managing editors for SCO this year. I like writing about things and reading mystery novels. Enjoy our site! More »