Violence Against the Transgender Community
with Jarrett Lucas of the Stonewall Community Foundation
Violence against transgender Americans has increased in 2020, disproportionately impacting Black trans women.
Jarrett Lucas, Executive Director of the Stonewall Community Foundation, discusses factors that put this community at risk, and the intersection of LGBTQ+ equality and racial justice.
Oct 14, 2020
Anderson: On June 25th, as this year's Pride Month celebration was winding down, 17 year old Brayla Stone, a black transgender girl, was murdered in Little Rock, Arkansas. In the eight days that followed, the bodies of five more transgender women of color were discovered. Hello and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. By mid-July, at least 22 trans women, the majority of them black, have died as a result of violence. But violence is only one of many factors putting the LGBTQ community at risk. Jarrett Lucas is the executive director of the Stonewall Community Foundation, and he joins us now to talk about all of this. Jarrett, thank you so much for being here.
Lucas: Thank you for having me and for making space for this conversation.
Anderson: So we know that, in June, about 15,000 people turned out for the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in Brooklyn. And about two weeks after that, there was a horrible stretch of violence. As we're talking about that, can you give us some insight into what was going on inside the LGBTQ community as racial justice was sort of taking center stage here across the nation?
Lucas: Yeah. So June saw the convergence of some really interesting things for our community. The first is that it's Pride month. It is an important historical moment for our community where we celebrate our resistance, actually, to police violence and prejudice. And, so, with the backdrop of racial injustice and the increased kind of public reckoning around that, the LGBT community is really wrestling with finding visibility within that conversation. The reality is, while the Black Lives Matter movement is, in fact, a legacy movement, a continuation of work that began decades ago, it's a movement that was founded explicitly by a group of people who are largely LGBTQ. And so it is an interesting dynamic to be in the middle of a movement calling for recognition and attention. That is one that we created while our issues are actually kind of put in the background.
Anderson: And so why was all of this happening? I mean, was this happening, as well, across the whole transgender community, or was this a specific slice of the pie where there are certain people who were targeted, where others were not?
Lucas: Unfortunately, if you look at not just this year, but every year in the past decade, you see a trend of rising violence against a specific population within the LGBT community. You're talking about transgender people, most often women, and specifically women of color, and within that, Black women. And I think that that's a reality that cannot be ignored. It's a pattern that is very, very obvious, but also under-addressed. And, you know, I think if you start in January, even, on New Year's Day, a transgender person was killed, Dustin Parker. And if you move forward, by the time we got to July, we had already surpassed the number of killings of transgender women against the total number killed in 2019.
Anderson: Jarrett, we're not just talking about violence. There's a whole host of other issues that really impact the whole transgender community that can have a pretty big fundamental impact. Can you explain to our viewers some of the things that this community is facing?
Lucas: Sure. So our society is largely organized around a few different things. I would say age is certainly one of them, but, also, gender is another. And if you look at pretty much any system, whether you're talking about the educational system, whether you're talking about the job market, our economy, so many things censor gender. And the reality is, for LGBTQ people and transgender people specifically, self-determination is at the core of our existence and also our struggle, this idea that we know exactly who we are and should have the freedom to live that truth openly. And so when you look at what the truths are about our law and our lawmakers and our culture is, you see that transgender people, gender-nonconforming people, are really pushed to the margins. They're pushed to the margins of our education systems, of the job market, of housing structures, and also our imaginations for what's possible in terms of personal freedom. You see transgender people pushed into survival economies, economies that are not legitimized, that, in many cases are deemed criminal or illegal by our governmental systems, but that also come with increased mortal risk. And, so, when you take options away from people, when you delegitimize the existence of people's identities, you leave them no options. And very often those options lead to violence. That is inevitable.
Anderson: And options, that really is the sort of centerpiece of the Stonewall Community Foundation and your work to make the lives of everybody within this community better. Can you talk to us a little bit about some of the things that you are doing to change the dynamic?
Lucas: Yes. So I think that one of the most important things that we can do as a society, as an organization, certainly, at Stonewall, is invest in and believe in the leadership of transgender people. One of our core tenets is that people who live most closely to the problems affecting and impacting their lives are often closest to the solutions. And, so, there are so many wonderful organizations and projects that are led by and for transgender people. Some of them are focused on ending this epidemic of violence. Others are focused on building up their leadership and job readiness, making sure that they graduate and matriculate into higher education and actually have the latitude in their lives to contribute to our community and beyond. And so we're super excited at Stonewall to make sure that those organizations, those leaders have every single resource they need, every bit of connection, every dollar that is necessary in order to move their visions forward. And I think that that is something that we can all do, actually, on a personal level, as well, is make sure that, when we see people who are trans, when we invite people to share their truths with us, that we're also supporting the vision that they have for their own lives well beyond their saying and declaring, "This is who I am."
Anderson: A lot of people probably say to themselves, you know, I don't know any transgender people, but what can they be doing to sort of get to know that community, to help change the situation, to help improve the lives of people in the transgender community? And then, as a whole?
Lucas: I think one of the best things that people can do is imagine that they do know someone who is transgender. Even if they don't know anyone who's out, the reality is that so many LGBTQ people have a journey, a process to finding themselves, and then sharing that with other people. And so, in the meantime, if you don't know anyone, you can do two things. You can pause yourself when it comes to making assumptions. It's very easy to see someone and say, "Oh, he or she did X, Y, or Z." But the reality is you probably want to give people space to tell you about their gender. And that's the second point. Give people that freedom to tell you about their gender. It is very easy, it's free, and it's something that benefits everyone, not just transgender people. And a common practice these days is asking people's pronouns. It's a cue, a signal that you actually give people agency to tell you who they are.
Anderson: And if people want to find out more about your work, what's your web site, where should they go?
Lucas: People can visit us at stonewallfoundation.org to learn more about the stories of the people our work supports and our mission.
Anderson: Jarrett Lucas of the Stonewall Community Foundation, thank you so much.
Lucas: Thank you, Tetiana.
Anderson: And thanks to our viewers, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your own community and across the nation, please be sure to log on to comcastnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.