D.C. activists fight back against violence targeting trans women

Another hate crime against trans women in the D.C. area, this one by an off-duty police officer no less, sheds a glaring flood light on the work ahead in challenging gender-based violence.

Last week, the off-duty District police officer allegedly fired a pistol at three transgender women and two male friends while the group was sitting in a car on a city street, after propositioning them for sex and being turned down. The police issued a statement saying three people “sustained non-life threatening injuries” and that the officer involved was charged with assault with a dangerous weapon and driving while intoxicated. What the statement didn’t explain, but was clarified by Jeri Hughes of Transgender Health Empowerment, was that one of the trans women involved was struck by a bullet in the hand, another was grazed by a bullet, and one of the men in the car–identified as the brother of one of the women–sustained a “very serious” gunshot wound and was in critical condition at George Washington University Hospital.

A rally was held Friday by a coalition of LGBT organizations that brought out some impassioned speakers and even some political powerhouses, like D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. While it’s heartening to see people like the mayor acknowledge that this is a critical and ongoing issue and see the police force responding rapidly and ethically, there’s so much urgent work left to do.

For starters, the public must be educated about the ways in which this incident, and the many others like it that have happened in recent months and years, are not symptomatic of individual bad apples, but a culture that still condones violence against anyone that doesn’t conform to the gender binary. The DC Trans Coalition summarizes:

Violence against trans women does not only exist as individual hatred or bias-motivated crime. It comes in many forms and for many reasons. Trans women are systematically placed in circumstances where we are more likely than others to experience multiple forms of violence. In order to end violence against trans women, it is important to understand that more than just personal prejudices are at fault. Other kinds of oppression like racism, laws like the criminalization of sex work, economic forces like poverty and gentrification, and many other forces are also at play.

As with all feminist issues, the recent rash of violence against trans women demonstrates just how intertwined oppressions become, and how much sweat, vision, and audacity will be needed to untangle and challenge the dangerous and discriminatory status quo in this country and beyond. In practical terms, that means taking the first steps to expressing solidarity by showing up these rallies, supporting these organizations, and educating those in your own community about the ongoing existence of this kind of immoral and unacceptable violence. This is all of our fight.

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