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Why violence against transgender Americans is a crisis that’s under reported

A recent series of murders of transgender victims is causing growing concern, particularly for trans women of color. It comes at a time when trans celebrities are more accepted in pop culture than ever before -- but also as the Trump administration aims to roll back Obama-era discrimination protections for transgender people. Amna Nawaz talks to the Anti-Violence Project's Beverly Tillery.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    There is growing concern in this country and fear about deadly attacks against transgender Americans, particularly trans women of color.

    As Amna Nawaz tells us, a series of murders in different cities in just one week has underscored a larger pattern of violence over several years.

    And yet it comes at a time when trans celebrities are more accepted and more prominent in pop culture.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Judy, the most recent killing took place last Sunday in north Philadelphia.

    Michelle "Tamika" Washington, 40 years old and a longtime advocate for the LGBTQ community, was shot several times. Her death came one day after Muhlaysia Booker was found dead in Dallas. Booker was just 23, and just weeks before her death, she was attacked in a mob-like beating after a minor traffic accident.

    One week before those murders, 21-year-old Claire Legato was shot in the head in Cleveland. She was killed after an argument between her mother and the suspected shooter.

    Earlier this year, two more black transgender women, Ashanti Carmon and Dana Martin, were also killed. Last year, more than two dozen transgender people were killed. And according to a 2018 Human Rights Campaign report, there were at least 128 trans people killed in 32 states since 2013; 80 percent of them were people of color.

    Let's now take a closer look at this now with Beverly Tillery. She's executive director of the Anti-Violence Project, an LGBTQ anti-violence organization.

    Beverly, welcome to the "NewsHour." Thank you for being with us.

    I want to start by asking you about this recent state of killings. They happened across the country. The circumstances are all very different in each case. Do you know or believe that these women were targeted because they were transgender?

  • Beverly Tillery:

    You know, I don't know all of the specifics of each of these murders.

    But what we know is, as you really just showed already, that we are seeing a tremendous number of homicides of trans women of color. Over and over, for the past several years, this has been consistent, and we need to pay attention as a society.

    This is something that's happening to our community members who are constantly under threat, experiencing other kinds of hate violence in our society, and we need to step up and come together and really do something to stop it.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Beverly, your organization tracks the numbers. You have been tracking them for 20 years.

  • Beverly Tillery:

    That's right.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    When you look at the numbers, as we know them this year, as compared to last, there appears to be a reduction in the violence. Do you trust those numbers?

  • Beverly Tillery:

    Well, what we always say is that, even what we report, we know is an underreporting of the violence that's happening and the homicides that's happening.

    A number of homicides — and, of course, we can't tell you how many — don't ever get reported for a number of reasons. In some cases, we know that trans and gender-nonconforming folks are misgendered by the police. They may not have community members who and friends and family members who will step up and say, this is who this person really was.

    And we just know that a lot of this goes under the radar, unfortunately. Really, we shouldn't get into a game of trying to compare this year to last year, when did the homicides happen.

    You know, it really doesn't matter. This is a huge crisis, and we have to take action now. We have known about this for years now. And we should have taken action last year and the year before, but it's not too late now.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Let's talk about the action we have seen. In Dallas alone, right, there were three brutal attacks in the last several months, two of them fatal.

  • Beverly Tillery:

    Yes.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    The mayor came out and said, this is unacceptable. He called it mob violence, the attack against Muhlaysia Booker.

    What you have seen in law enforcement in the way of response? Are you satisfied with what you're seeing?

  • Beverly Tillery:

    Well, we're not satisfied.

    We don't necessarily see a response that is saying, this is more than just a trend. This is an epidemic in our society that needs to be addressed and taken seriously. And, frankly, you know, more and more community members are reluctant to turn to law enforcement, because members of the trans and gender-nonconforming community and, in fact, members of the LGBTQ community have experienced violence from the police.

    They don't trust the police.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Beverly, it's worth noting we are speaking on the same day the Trump administration has rolled back some health care protections for trans people. Earlier this week, there was another rule they put in place allowing federal shelters receiving funds to turn away trans people serving — seeking services there. There's also the efforts to push a transgender military ban here.

    What effect have all of these even just proposals had on the trans community?

  • Beverly Tillery:

    Yes.

    I mean, talk about a complete slap in the face. You know, the timing is really important to note here because, on the heels of these homicides, where the community is already reeling, for the administration to, one after the other, release these proposed guidelines and rules this week, it's clear that they do not care about the trans and gender-nonconforming community.

    And, in fact, in the work that we have been doing in the city of New York and across the country, when we have brought together trans and gender-nonconforming folks to talk about what are the ways we need our cities and our states and the nation to respond to this violence and to help prevent violence, people over and over again have told us, we need housing, we need access to employment, we need better health care, so that we can put ourselves in safer circumstances and so we're not as vulnerable to violence that's happening in our community.

    And what does the administration do? Seek to strip away access to health care, to housing, to employment. You know, all of the things that people have actually articulated that they need to address the violence, the administration is trying to take away.

  • Amna Nawaz:

    Beverly Tillery, executive director of the Anti-Violence Project, thanks for being with us today.

  • Beverly Tillery:

    Thank you so much for having me.

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