Commentary: Our Lives Are Valuable

GLAAD’s Tiq Milan on why his and other Black transgender lives are so important.

(Photo: Courtesy of Tiq Milan)

Transgender Day of Remembrance is not the day for celebratory slide shows of famous transgender performers, professionals, writers or intellectuals.

This day is about the 238 transgender people, mostly women of color, who were brutally murdered this year. Many of whom died in the most horrific fashion, discarded like trash and never identified. This is about the deep trenches of transphobia, homophobia and misogyny that informs people's misguided assumptions about trans women; creates an idea that trans women are less than human, undeserving of love and respect. These women are not men in women's clothing trying to deceive or entrap others. They aren't perverts or the butt of the joke. They are mothers and daughters and sisters and friends.

In the LGBT community, transgender people are outnumbered by gays and lesbians six to one yet they accounted for 54 percent of anti-LGBT homicides in 2012 (73 percent of all anti-LGBT homicides victims were people of color). Trans women are also 11 times more likely to be murdered than a non-trans woman. These staggering statistics are the result of shaming and ostracizing. So many transgender women are forced to leave the safety of their homes and community because of their gender identity. For instance, Eyricka Morgan, a 26-year-old African-American transgender woman from New Jersey, left her home as a teenager and was living in a men's boarding house when she was killed by another resident. Islan Nettles, also estranged from her family, was a client at Ali Forney, a homeless LGBT youth center, when she was brutally killed on the streets of Harlem.

Countless young black trans women migrate from the south where they were rejected by their families and friends fueled by fervent religiosity. I've known girls who had to leave their comfortable middle class families to begin a life of survival on the streets of New York, jumping from one social service organization to the next trying to secure a decent meal and housing. Oftentimes these girls have to rely on sex work as their only source of income because the retail stores and restaurants, places were most young 20-somethings can easily find work, won't hire them. And doesn't all the rejection take its toll? It would break anyone's spirit to be constantly repudiated, mocked and punished for merely living as your authentic self.

These young women are being killed at an alarming rate because too often they are fetishized and treated as the sum of their parts and not a whole person. They are viewed as a performance piece to marvel at or a sexual taboo to be kept secret. They sit at the intersection of racism, misogyny, transphobia and homophobia. A virulent mix of toxic ideologies that coalesces into ugly merciless violence.

Violence in the Black community has been well documented, debated and analyzed by everyone from grassroots community leaders to mainstream news pundits. But the intense and constant violence against Black trans women is wholly ignored by leaders in the Black community. Nettles was killed not too far away from Al Sharpton's National Action Network, an organization that prides itself on its non-violence platform. But we didn’t hear a peep from him or his organization. Black transgender people should not have to fend for themselves on the margins of their own community. We have a right to a seat at the table. The issues that face Black trans people are a magnified reflection of the concerns of the Black community as a whole and we are suffering from the collective cold shoulder.

It is not solely the responsibility of LGBT people to put in the work to end this heartbreaking violence. All of us who are considered leaders in the social justice movement have an obligation to affect change for the most vulnerable, misunderstood and marginalized community in this country no matter your gender identity or sexuality. The lives of Black and Latino transgender women have value. It's time that everyone starts acting like it.

Tiq Milan is a Senior Media Strategist at Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. Milan has been an advocate in the LGBT community and writer for over 10 years. He was featured in Live Out Loud’s national visibility campaign, “The Home Coming Project” and was a cast member of MTV’s I’m From Rolling Stone

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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