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Ja'briel Walthour Headshot

One Day Our Change Will Come: A Call to Raise Awareness and End Violence Against Transgender Women of Color

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As the sun sets on the life of yet another victim of violence, I am reminded of the injustice and
discrimination faced by transgender and gender non-conforming people around our country and,
indeed, the world. On August 1, Camila Guzman, 38, was found stabbed to death in her East Harlem, N.Y. apartment. Police recently arrested Camila's boyfriend after he reportedly confessed to killing her. A month earlier, Lashai Mclean, 23, was shot and killed in northeast D.C. An arrest has yet to be made. Each day, transgender women of color, like Camila and Lashai, are tragic yet shining examples of those whose lives were brutally cut short due to senseless acts of violence. Sadly, our society continues to turn a blind eye to the transgender community.

As I reflect on the lives of Camila and Lashai, I feel compelled to ask the question, how long? How long must we wait for a change to come? How long must other transgender women of color, like myself, be subjected to the hands of hate, the vestige of violence, and the devastating effects of discrimination? To answer these questions, we must first take a look at this national crisis, which has swept across our country and targeted our transgender and gender non-conforming brothers and sisters.

According to "Injustice at Every Turn," a recent study released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality, the impact of anti-transgender bias can lead to insurmountable challenges and devastating outcomes for victims. The report goes on to say that 63 percent of the 6,450 transgender and gender non-conforming study participants had experienced a serious act of discrimination, with almost a quarter (23 percent) experiencing a catastrophic level of events that would have a major impact on a person's quality of life and ability to sustain themselves financially or emotionally. This includes a laundry list of major, life-disrupting events such as, lost jobs, evictions, physical and sexual assault, denial of medical services, school and teacher bullying/harassment, homelessness, lost relationship with partner, children, and incarceration due to gender identity/expression. A separate report conducted by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that transgender women constituted 44 percent of LGBT hate crime victims in the past year, and people of color -- like Camila and Lashai -- were 70 percent of the victims.

As a transgender woman of color, I know all too well the violence, ignorance and discrimination
that accompany the lives of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. I can vividly recall attending middle school and having a school-house bully push me to the ground, laughing and scoffing as I scurried to pick myself up. As a young adult, I can also hear the voices of pastors and ministers, who rebuked and scolded me. I can still clearly see the soldier I supported and befriended while he was deployed to Iraq, cursing and yelling at me upon his return, out of fear of what my life and our relationship would mean to his career. There isn't much that compares to the humiliation, rejection and fear of living your life as an out and proud transgender woman of color. To face discrimination and biased attitudes is one thing; to stare down the barrel of a loaded weapon, is another.

In regard to the tragic demise of Camila Guzman and Lashai Mclean, I am deeply saddened and, in fact, appalled at the seemingly absolute apathy of our social and legal justice system. Instead of working to ensure equal rights and protection for all citizens, they choose to move at a snail's pace on hate crime statutes at the state level, a federal and LGBT-inclusive Employment Non-discrimination Act (ENDA), protections for transgender service members under the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," and other affirming/anti-discriminatory measures. In addition to their inaction, I am also extremely disappointed in mainstream media outlets for not amplifying the voice of vulnerable populations, like transgender and gender non-conforming people of color. Furthermore, I am disillusioned with the lack education on this topic in the televised, radio, and print publications of my community. The absence of knowledge and visibility surrounding transgender issues within Black and other ethnic communities only contribute to fear and calculated acts of violence on victims, whose only crime is living authentically. As a result of the untimely deaths of Camila Guzman and Lashai Mclean, there should be a collective outrage among all who support humanity and equality. Moreover, there should be a wailing of the drums of justice, as we honor the lives of these courageous, young women.

To answer the question of "how long" until change comes and rids the world of violence and
intolerance, I remain optimistic that it will be soon. As I fulfill my call to duty, I am hopeful that my life will serve as a beacon of hope to other transgender and gender non-conforming people. I am also hopeful that through education, faith, and fortitude, someone else will hear or see the stories of other brave trans-women and men of color, and choose to love and support them, rather than ridicule and reject. There is a role for each of us to play, as we summon hearts and minds, tell our stories, and search for the inherent good in us all. As we seek to find this peace, let us rest assure that one day our change will come. Today that change begins with you.

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