Activists must secure transgender rights

Tommy Collison, Deputy Opinion Editor

Alabama became the 37th state where same-sex couples can legally marry on Sunday, so it is understandable that so many activists feel a sense of accomplishment. And while this is a victory for
LGBTQ rights, progress must go beyond the right to marry.

Denver played host last week to Creating Change, a national conference on LGBTQ equality. During the opening plenary, activists stormed the stage with posters calling on members of the community to stand in solidarity with transgender people. “If you serve us, you need to include us,” one activist said. The organizers of the conference allowed the protestors to use microphones to speak to the gathered attendees. Despite the recent gains the LGBTQ community has enjoyed, more work is needed for all sexual minorities to enjoy full equality. LGBTQ activists and the wider community have a responsibility to ensure that new rights and benefits accrue for all members of the community, not just people whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.

The transgender community has long faced higher instances of violence and murder than the rest of the lesbian, gay and bisexual communities. According to a 2012 National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs report, LGBTQ people of color were almost twice as as likely to experience physical violence than white LGBTQ people were, and 53.8 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were transgender women.

Part of the problem is a legal defense called the “transgender panic defense.” It was used in the trial for the murder of transgender woman Gwen Araujo, who was killed in October 2002 by four men, three of whom she had allegedly been intimate with. When the men discovered that Araujo had male genitalia, they attacked her and hit her head with a shovel. During the trial, two of the men attempted to diminish the severity of their crime by arguing that Araujo had somehow deceived them and the subsequent murder was a crime of passion. The men were convicted of murder, but not of a hate crime despite the fact that the jury denounced the use of panic defense. The existence of such a defense hinges on the notion that transgender individuals are shameful or duplicitous, a stereotype that is incorrect and harmful to the transgender community.

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The media often shortens the rights of the LGBTQ community to simply gay rights. This is a marginalization of the transgender community from the conversation. While the right to marry is an important milestone in the fight for equality, more must be done to bring down the rates of violent crime that too many in the community face.

A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Feb. 10 print edition. Email Tommy Collison at [email protected]

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