India Clarke, a Black trans woman, was brutally killed in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday. Her name has now been added to a growing list of trans women of color murdered just this year.
The Human Rights Campaign has tracked at least ten trans women who have been murdered from January through July of this year. In 2014, thirteen trans women were killed and twelve of them identified as either Latina or Black.
According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs 2014 report on LGBTQH hate crimes, trans women constituted 55 percent of homicide victims and trans women of color were 50 percent of homicide victims despite only 19 percent of reports coming from trans survivors and victims.
The surge of famous faces like Laverne Cox and Caitlyn Jenner has certainly catapulted trans issues into the mainstream. However, many activists argue that the epidemic of trans lives lost every year demonstrates how desperately trans people, and specifically, trans women of color, need to see change in policy, culture, and education.
According to Jay Brown, HRC Foundation's Director of Research and Public Education, the problem is rooted in racism and sexism.
“Even as the transgender community experiences historic visibility and increasingly inclusive protections, the reality is that violence and brutality are a part of far too many transgender people's daily lives—especially transgender women of color," said Brown. "As we mourn the death of India Clarke, we must also work to address the realities that conspire to put transgender people at risk, including high rates of unemployment, lack of healthcare and housing instability."
Not only do trans women of color face disproportionate poverty and lack of access to basic needs, they are often misgendered by police and the media reporting on the crime, causing further alienation and erasure of their identities.
After Clarke was murdered, local police misgendered her in their reports. Detective Larry McKinnon told BuzzFeed News, “We are not going to categorize him as a transgender. We can just tell you that he had women’s clothing on at the time. What his lifestyle was prior to that we don’t know—whether he was a cross dresser, we don’t know.”
McKinnon refers to Clarke by the wrong pronoun several times throughout, disregarding her own identification (which she makes clear on her Facebook account).
Dani Heffernan, Senior Strategist for Transgender Media at GLAAD, told NBCBLK that police rely on legal identification when figuring out who a victim is, but for many trans people, altering their legal documents is very difficult or even impossible. Thus, the police often identify a victim by a false gender and name and it is up to those who know the victim to correct it.
Heffernan says it's not just police departments who consistently refuse to honor a trans person’s own gender identity, but the media is guilty of this as well.
“We see stories like this where trans women of color have been murdered and the media coverage of these stories is so often inaccurate and offensive," said Heffernan. "They are using the wrong pronouns and putting her chosen name in quotation marks. This is disrespectful and the media needs to do better.”
Nathan Bruemmer, a Board Member of TransAction Florida, told NBCBLK that misgendering and misunderstanding of gender identity is a dangerous mindset that creates a culture of violence directed at trans women of color.
“It has also become abundantly clear through this tragedy that there is a huge educational gap when it comes to talking about and working with the transgender community," said Bruemmer. "Ignorance and fear are perpetuating this violence. We need to acknowledge that this is happening and talk about why this is happening so we can work to stop the violence. We must do better as a society. Lives are at stake.”
A group of community activists pooled together resources through social media to host a vigil at Gaslight Park in Tampa on Friday at 8pm. On Saturday, a walk-in event has been planned at the LGBT Community Center to allow people a safe place to process this tragedy as a community with mental health resources available.
Laura E. Durso, Director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress spoke with NBCBLK about the tragedy.
“It is a sad reality that trans people, particularly trans women of color, face unspeakable violence simply for living full and authentic lives," said Durso. "India’s story highlights the urgent need for our laws and our values to reflect two simple facts, that black lives matter and that trans lives matter.”
As the Black Lives Matter Movement has gained traction in the mainstream media, many have criticized the movement for ignoring the lives of black women and black queer and trans people (especially considering the #blacklivesmatter slogan was created by queer black women.)