DC-based Human Rights Campaign marks record deaths in transgender communities

On Saturday, the Transgender Day of Remembrance was marked by an unprecedented number of annual deaths in the transgender and gender-nonconforming community since the Human Rights Campaign, a D.C.-based LGBTQ+ advocacy group, started keeping records.

Throughout the week, President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. House of Representatives and several other organizations mourned the loss of 47 transgender lives in the last year — many of whom were people of color.

In previous years, the majority of incidents reported impacted Black and Latinx transgender women. In 2019, the list included Zoe Spears, 24, of Prince George’s County, Maryland.

This year, deaths in the region included 20-year-old Taya Ashton of Suitland, Maryland, 23-year-old EJ Boykin of Lynchburg, Virginia, and 31-year-old Danika Henson of Baltimore, Maryland.

In a statement published Wednesday, HRC Interim President Joni Madison said that the lives lost deserved to be remembered and lived. They have since confirmed 47 cases of fatal violence.

“The rhetoric and stigma aimed by anti-equality political leaders and public figures at transgender and nonbinary people have led to an unprecedented level of horrific violence against our transgender community,” Madison said.

Tori Cooper, a spokesperson for HRC’s transgender justice initiative, said that this is the time to honor lives and memories with action.

“On the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we must all reaffirm our commitment to fighting on every front necessary to ensure our transgender siblings’ deaths will not be forgotten,” Cooper said.

Memorializing those lost

While HRC commemorated Transgender Awareness Week, an annual event meant to highlight progress and remaining work in the fight for transgender and nonbinary equality, public officials spent their time memorializing those lives that were lost.

In a statement on Saturday, Biden called for local and state legislators to work on combating discrimination against transgender people and transgender children, calling transgender people “some of the bravest Americans” he knows.

“As I have said before, these bills are nothing more than bullying disguised as legislation, they are un-American, and they endanger the safety and well-being of our children,” Biden said, referencing state legislation he views as discriminatory. “I also continue to urge the Senate to swiftly pass the Equality Act so that all people are able to live free from fear and discrimination.”

On Wednesday, lawmakers also marked Transgender Day of Remembrance with a special order hour during which several democratic congresspersons read the names of transgender people who died during the year.

The White House published several initiatives following their statement, including the announcement of a vigil hosted by the Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff.

That statement also included a report highlighting 45 actions the administration has taken to address some of the root causes of anti-transgender violence.

Tracking the data and city rankings

HRC, along with the Equality Federation, releases annual assessments of LGBTQ equality based regionally. A statement on Thursday highlighted excitement that over 100 cities, including Alexandria and Arlington in Virginia and College Park and Rockville in Maryland, have received a perfect score.

HRC said that they develop the score based on policies, laws and services at the municipal level. Fran Hutchins, an executive director at the Equality Federation Institute, said that despite challenges at the state and local level, these past years were critical for advancing LGBTQ equality.

“Despite the increasing attacks we are seeing on transgender youth in state legislatures, the important work to advance protections for LGBTQ+ people continues at the local level,” Hutchins said.

That data accompanies an annual report on stopping cultures of violence against transgender and nonbinary people, with an emphasis on highly-targeted transgender women of color. That resource is available online.

HRC also noted that LGBTQ+ people, especially younger individuals, have a higher likelihood of needing mental health assistance. Those young people who need more immediate assistance can contact The Trevor Project, a leading national organization for crisis and suicide prevention among LGBTQ+ people, by calling 866-488-7386.

For adults who may have similar concerns, or those who don’t feel comfortable speaking with The Trevor Project, other organizations like the Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860) and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) are available.

Ivy Lyons

Ivy Lyons is a digital journalist for WTOP.com. Since 2018, they have worked on Capitol Hill, at NBC News in Washington, and with WJLA in Washington.

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