More transgender people have been killed in 2016 than any other year.
So far this year, at least 22 transgender people have been killed across the U.S., according to the latest estimates from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a group that tracks violence affecting the LGBTQ community. Eighteen of the victims were African American.
The fact that this is an all-time high makes it into a lot of news stories. We wanted to know if the record numbers were because of an increase in violence against transgender people, a heightened awareness of transgender issues or some other factor.
Advocates worry the increase is a sign of heightened hostility, particularly in light of the hate incidents that have grabbed public attention during President-elect Donald Trump’s rise to power.
However, there are other factors at play as well.
THE TRUTH WILL NOT REVEAL ITSELF
The data is imperfect. Researchers just began tracking these figures in 2010, so there aren’t many other years to compare it to. Because law enforcement agencies aren’t required to report hate crimes, it’s cobbled together from news reports.
And more people identify as transgender than ever, something that would naturally boost the figures.
- Increased hostility
In March, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a bill that requires transgender people to use bathrooms in schools and other public areas in accordance to their physical gender and not their gender identity.
“There’s been such a nasty public discourse about transgender people that people feel they can get away with discrimination or harassment or violence in a way they didn’t think before,” said Gabe Murchison of Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ civil rights advocacy group. “I think it’s very likely that that’s also spread to other parts of the country.”
Trump said in an April town hall that transgender people should be able to choose which restroom they use. But he later amended his stance, saying the decision to restrict bathroom access should be left to each state.
Murchison said he’s worried about the violence transgender people could face going forward given Trump’s xenophobic stance on Muslims and immigrants.
“The more we see people in positions of power normalizing biased-motivated violence, the more violence you’re going to see,” Murchison said. “If people in positions of power don’t take a firm stand against violence, then you will absolutely see more of it.”
It is that concern over violence that prompted the Human Rights Campaign to start collecting information on homicides of transgender individuals back in 2013.
- No solid data
Tallying the exact number of deaths is difficult because the numbers come from media reports.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found that at least 20 people who identified as transgender were killed in 2015.
On average 13 transgender people were killed each year from 2010 to 2014.
Murchison said more people understand what it means to be transgender, which has led law enforcement and media to better recognize these issues. But police and media reports don’t always describe transgender victims accurately or they cite the victim’s birth name.
Jazz Alford, a transgender woman, is an example of that. She was found dead from multiple gun wounds Sept. 23 at a Birmingham, Alabama, motel. Al.com first described Alford as a man. It was only later reported by the Advocate, a publication that focuses on the LGBTQ community, that Alford identified as a woman.
No official dataset tracks transgender murders. FBI hate crime data does not include incidents from every law enforcement agency because they are not required to report that information. Earlier this year, the AP reported that more than 2,000 county sheriffs and city police departments have not reported a single hate crime to the FBI in the past six years.
- More openly transgender people
The Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law estimates that there are about 1.4 million people who identify as transgender today. That’s twice as many as 10 years ago. The study found that Hawaii had the most people who identify as transgender and young adults were more likely to identify as such.
“People feel that at least it is relatively safer or more possible for them to be out,” said Harper Jean Tobin, a policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality. “But there has been a certain amount of backlash against that.”