Dee Culp

LIVING YOUR TRUTH: Another transgender woman has been murdered, so what will we do about it?

LIVING YOUR TRUTH: Another transgender woman has been murdered, so what will we do about it?
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Monday evening, a little after we had just finished recording Episode 36 of the NEPA Scene Podcast, I left the studio to head home. The humid air outside TwentyFiveEight Studios clung to me like a warm, wet sweater. It was about 12 a.m. when I took notice of my surroundings and how eerily quiet and empty the parking lot was. But I paid no mind. I wanted to stop at Walmart to pick up some food for my pets. This wouldn’t be the first time I ran into a store for something in the wee hours of the morning… No problem. Except, that was before I transitioned.

Since then, I’ve had to evaluate myself and my surroundings a little more carefully. I’m just a white girl, with all my white girl privilege, and I try to keep it well in-check, but that doesn’t change the fact that I often feel like I have to have my head on a swivel when I’m out. I had my phone at the ready as I walked through the parking lot, just in case, and decided to send a quick message to let my friend know I was safe and where I was going. (It’s important to have a buddy system.) Then came the electric shock of a headline on a subject that has come up way too often, flowing through me as I read: “Transgender woman repeatedly run over, killed in Missouri church parking lot.”

REPEATEDLY RUN OVER. The sheer brutality, the mental sickness required to do such a thing evoked an image that made me sick to my stomach. How? How?! How can someone do that to another person? What screwed up part of their brain led to the conclusion that running someone down was suitable… and for what? Being trans? Or something we don’t know? And who cares why? Except that in the eyes of justice, it’s important that we are able to classify this murder as a hate crime and not let the perpetrator get away with another “trans panic” defense. And even if the perpetrator is prosecuted to the full extent of the law, it doesn’t change the fact that another woman will never be seen by her family, alive, again.

I don’t know if it’s irony that I was standing in a parking lot as I read that at such a late hour. Not more than an hour prior, Rich Howells, Mark Dennebaum, and I talked about how many trans women and trans women of color have been murdered in this country. I mentioned the three people identified over just this past weekend, and whatever number I had memorized to recite on the show was already outdated. It was already profoundly high, wiping out last year’s numbers, and now it was one person higher. I decided to skip Walmart. Better to come home alive, and my pets eat a little later, than not to come home at all.

There has been so much death… lives just slipping through our fingers. So many of us have said this is an epidemic, but is anybody listening? Does anyone hear us? Someone needs to hear this. The president needs to hear this. But would that even help?

I don’t know. I believe, if this were a disease, we’d have the CDC on top of it. We’d be closing borders and sequestering anyone who had come into contact with the victims. We’d be running tests and writing headlines, running 24-hour coverage of the mounting situation as we come up with ways to prevent it and a possible cure, doing what we’ve done countless times when faced with a deadly disease in the past. That is, except for that one time, of course… not so long ago, when AIDS was ravaging the homosexual population, and the belief at the time was that it was only affecting homosexual men. “The Gay Plague,” “Gay Cancer,” thousands dying, and the White House thought it was a big joke.

See, there are so many people who think it’s OK to ignore the situation because they believe it can’t happen to them. They aren’t gay, or trans, or a minority within a minority, a marginalized person within an already marginalized group of people. Where is the empathy? And then you remember, even if you’re not a trans woman of color, even if you don’t face the same kind of discrimination Tamara Dominguez did, the rationalization you might say, “That’ll never be me,” is false.

I am not insinuating that I am at the same level of risk; I know I’m not. But even I had to stop and wonder how often am I out at all hours of the night. How many people actually recognize me from the news? From this column? From Facebook? How many times have I run my mouth about being trans when I should have shut up and remained stealth? And speaking of stealth, just how well do I “pass,” anyway? And don’t forget, even white, cisgender women get victim-blamed for being out at night when they are attacked and killed. If you believe you are safe, I beg to differ. Check your privilege and recognize that we all need to do something to get the number of trans women of color killed in this country to zero.

Once again, we have to beg and plead, sign petitions, run campaigns, write letters, hold protest marches, and hold up signs to get attention to the violence going on in this country. This is our generation’s AIDS crisis, and we are going through the same level of ignorance and denial all over again. Because they keep making jokes about Caitlyn Jenner. Because they keep making movies like “Ted 2” and laughing at how hilarious we are for being who we are. “C’mon, don’t be so PC!” they say. “Get a sense of humor. It’s just a joke, right?” One, harmless, little joke

And then I ask, “How many more need to be killed?” If we aren’t stopping the violence, we are allowing it to happen. We need to make it stop.

One last thing I must ask – if you are trans, please take the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey. Help us get a better understanding of where we are and what’s going on in the world. This is something you can do right now that will have a huge impact on the community. The numbers that state governments, the national government, media outlets, researchers, and activists use to decide what kind of laws get passed, what issues get the most attention, and what kind of support is available have become stale. A lot has changed since the survey last went out, so please fill it out. Make your voice heard. Whether you’re in the closet, out, white, black, male, female, agender or beyond… Whether you are living your truth or not, your voice matters! There’s a place in the survey where you can list the top issues you believe are affecting us today, and I hope you understand that we need to make stopping the violence your No. 1 priority. Sign the White House petition I linked to above, and then please take the 2015 U.S. Trans Survey.

Living Your Truth is a weekly column about the empowerment that comes from being true to your authentic self. It focuses on the LGBT community in NEPA and the news and events that impact it.