One of the most dangerous and most widely tolerated of the many bigotries that run rampant in the United States is transphobia, and it has claimed a bloody toll over the past few weeks.
An eighteen-year-old Chicago high school student, Orlando Perez, has been arrested after admitting to murdering Selena Reyes-Hernandez. The pair returned to her home at 5:30 AM one night. After Reyes-Hernandez told him she was trans, he became “mad as hell” and left her apartment only to return with a handgun, shooting Reyes-Hernandez in the head and the back before leaving the scene of the crime.
But he “kept seeing her face in his head,” so he returned to her apartment again to fire more shots into her dead body.
This kind of vindictiveness and brutality is sadly common in transphobic assaults. It’s the product of intense masculine fragility, homophobia, and all the fear and shame that accompanies those toxic beliefs.
The killing of Reyes-Hernandez took place in May; two more trans women, Dominique Rem’mie Fells in Philadelphia and Riah Milton in Ohio, have been murdered in recent weeks in what Philadelphia’s Office of LGBT Affairs called an “epidemic” of anti-trans violence:
“We are reminded with this, and countless other painful losses—especially within our transgender communities—that there is much left to do until we achieve full equality, respect, and support for us all. The murder of transgender people—especially those of color—is truly an epidemic and a crisis that we cannot afford to allow to persist any further.”
At least 14 transgender or non-gender conforming people have been killed in the United States this year; 26 were murdered last year, 91% of them Black women.
The battle against transphobia and its defenders, unfortunately, is one that must be fought on both sides of the aisle. Earlier this month, the Trump administration repealed Obama-era protections for transgender Americans in healthcare, the latest move in Trump team’s deliberate persecution of America’s most vulnerable minorities.
Just two days prior, billionaire author and unrepentant trans-exclusionary radical feminist J.K. Rowling caused a controversy on social media when she published a 3,700-word transphobic screed defending her previous transphobic tweets and statements.
“Trans people, [J.K. Rowling] argued, were not merely erasing women and marriage equality alike; we were also, as an article she posted suggested, “terrorizing” cisgender lesbians by entering women’s spaces, when we should, instead, stop deluding ourselves about being women at all…To some, Rowling’s tweets may seem anodyne. But if you read between the lines, their tone is patronizing, suggesting that trans people can wear whatever clothes we wish and use whatever language we like, but that in reality, we are living in a kind of silly delusion that people like Rowling merely politely tolerate,” writes trans woman and Harry Potter devotee Gabrielle Bellot at LitHub.
While there are certainly vast differences in the amount of harm that these actions and statements can create, both Trump and Rowling’s decisions stem from the same hateful ideas that seek to deny trans people their identities and their humanity, that reinforces the archaic and deliberately oppressive conceptions of gender roles and that cultivates the kind of prejudice and stigma that leads to people getting murdered for having the courage to express who they really are.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.