Making transgender murder victims visible

18 November 2016

In the three months following the divisive UK referendum that resulted in a decision to withdraw from the European Union, many more incidences of attacks upon ethnic and religious minorities were reported than during the months before. However, many claim that the reporting by anti-violence charity GALOP of a 147 per cent spike in hate crimes in the three months since the vote came out of left-field. Within these worrying figures, it really shouldn’t surprise us to also see linkages between sexual and gender diversity and dangerous scapegoating of migrant communities.

Over the last five years, the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) Sexuality, Poverty and Law programme has examined how sexual and gender minorities experience intersecting forms of marginalisation that can lead to lives of poverty and violence. Trans communities around the world remain the most vulnerable and in many cases are very visible targets for discrimination.

To mark this year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance, Transgender Europe (TGEU) has published it’s Trans Murder Monitoring (TMM) annual report, that places hard figures on the cost of trans people’s lives. The latest report highlights a total of 295 reported killings of trans and gender-diverse people globally between 1 October 2015 and 30 September 2016.

Two key elements of the findings chime strongly with the research that IDS has been conducting with partners and are cause for particular concern: the high proportion of murder victims who were migrants within the countries they lived in and the high number of sex workers who were targeted.

Risks to trans migrants

In an IDS Policy Briefing written by Stephen Wood in May 2016, 'Migration, Mobility and Marginalisation: Consequences for Gender and Sexual Minorities', Wood highlights that to avoid discrimination, violence and economic marginalisation, many sexual and gender-non-conforming people often leave their place of origin/residence as a route to achieve independence. Whilst this can provide liberation for many, it can also lead to a precarious existence without essential social networks, particularly for those (such as refugees) settling in a country with limitations on their ability to find employment or even speak the local language.

The TMM report underscores this point, showing that migrants constitute a large share of victims. Around 31 per cent of the trans and gender-diverse people murdered in Europe between January 2008 and September 2016 have been migrants. Of the 30 reported trans and gender-diverse people in Italy, a staggering 70 per cent (21) of all victims have been migrants; and in France and the three Southern European countries Italy, Portugal, and Spain (the countries where most trans and gender-diverse people from Africa and Central and South America migrate to), 30 of the 44 reported murders (68 per cent) were migrants.

Vulnerabilities of trans sex workers

Research conducted by IDS and partners in Vietnam that has examined the livelihood opportunities available to trans individuals discovered a stark difference in the experience of trans women and trans men in their employment choices. Unsurprisingly, the gendered nature of occupations meant that a much higher percentage of trans women turned to sex work as the most viable option to make ends meet, with the attendant risks to safety this entailed.

This is also borne out in the analysis carried out by Transgender Europe of the TMM data, which shows that 65 per cent of all murdered trans and gender-diverse people whose profession was known were sex workers.

In Europe itself, the high percentage (86 per cent) of sex workers amongst the murdered trans and gender-diverse people whose profession is known is also shaped by those countries with the highest absolute numbers, such as Turkey (90 per cent) and Italy (83 per cent). 

Clearly, these results underscore the intersection of multiple vectors of discrimination, particularly but not exclusively transphobia, racism, xenophobia, and whorephobia. The gendered nature of this violence cannot be ignored and there are lessons here for how wider efforts to tackle gender-based violence must see these attacks upon the trans communities as part of wider feminist activism.

We are at a critical political moment, where liberalism is under sustained attack and naked nationalism and misogyny are taking root in the public discourse of many countries. It is clear that trans bodies and lives will be at the heart of this battleground. Renewed activism and academic enquiry are needed to understand and strengthen communities that have been rendered invisible and vulnerable to wider political shockwaves.

To continue the conversation, follow Transgender Europe, TvT reseach project, and Stephen Wood on Twitter.

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