Even after this summer’s series of historic protests and marches led by trans women of color, the murder of black and brunette trans women continues unabated. During this long summer, the number of deaths of transgender women has steadily increased to reach at least 28, which is more than the total number killed in 2019. These include the recent brutal stabbing of women. ‘a 32-year-old woman. Tiffany harris in New York and 24 years old Queasha Hardy of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Their deaths underscore why the American Medical Association called the murder of transgender women an “epidemic” last year. And they highlight why it is clearly time for unprecedented action to stem the tide of blood in trans communities of color. The good news is, there is a way to do it.
One way to reduce the levels of extreme violence against trans women of color is to focus on economic justice for black and brown trans women. The bottom line here is that for many trans women, tackling violence and economic well-being go hand in hand.
A key trend in murders of trans women is that they are committed overwhelmingly by people who know these women. In Harris’ case, local reports say she was in a relationship with the man police want to question about his death. On a case-by-case basis, black and brunette trans women are killed by their partners, neighbors or clients. This pattern of intimate partner violence mirrors that of cis women of color, particularly black women, who experience some of the highest levels of intimate partner violence in the country. And high levels of intimate partner violence correspond to high levels of economic insecurity.
According to the National Center for Victims of Crime of the Ministry of Justice, women earning between $ 15,000 and $ 24,000 per year report one-third more incidences of domestic violence than those earning more than $ 75,000, and those earning less than $ 7,500 report violence 12 times higher than those earning more than $ 75,000. These figures show that intimate partner violence is, among other things, an economic problem. Part of the reason is that abusers target low-income women, and many of these women lack confidence in the current criminal justice system to deal with the violence they face.
Since transgender people, as Data from the National Center for Transgender Equality from 2015 shows, are more likely to be low-income and twice as likely to be unemployed, the economic precariousness of trans people is a perfect storm for exposure to higher rates of violence and death.
In order to make serious progress in reducing violence, we need to take economic empowerment seriously. To be clear, we need a fundamentally different system on the whole to promote economic justice and fairness. But within the current constraints, here are three ideas that might help.
Universal Basic Income
With 1 in 3 trans people earning less than $ 20,000 a year, the Universal Basic Income would help many trans people escape violence. The current average living wage in the United States is around $ 25,000, which is above the economic threshold for the highest levels of violence. We know the minimum wage is well below a living wage. That is why 2 of 5 people in the United States who are poor work, but cannot earn enough to escape poverty. Universal basic income payments would put an end to this dynamic. They would make up the difference between the salary received and whatever the living wage is for the worker depending on where they live. Universal Basic Income programs are not new and have been tested in pilot initiatives in the United States and around the world. It is time to intensify and expand these initiatives for transgender women of color.
Affirmative action for trans women of color
With almost 80 percent as trans women have been victims of employment discrimination, there is a need to radically rethink trans women’s access to jobs. One way to increase the hiring of trans women is through affirmative action. Even though the promotion of diversity by considering the historical marginalization of candidates for office has been attacked by the right and diminished by the Supreme Court, it has worked. According to research by the Urban Institute, affirmative action has improved the type of jobs, income, and educational opportunities for blacks in the United States. Therefore, employers and educational institutions should add and prioritize gender identity in their diversity goals.
Decriminalization of sex work
Ending violence against sex workers is key to preserving the lives of trans women of color. Due to a combination of economic and educational marginalization, sex work is a necessity for many. For others, it is also a choice centered on control and flexibility of earnings. Regardless, the fact remains that sex work is a vital lifeline for trans women, with almost half of black trans women having engaged in the practice. The word “decriminalization” in the context of sex work can conjure up images of exploitation and increased violence, but when done correctly the opposite is likely. Decriminalizing sex work would likely reduce the incidence of arrests and incarceration of trans women of color. Decriminalization would also make sex workers eligible for government programs that, during the COVID-19 crisis for example, keep people afloat. For all these reasons, the decriminalization of sex work is potentially both an anti-violence and economic support mechanism.
Thinking beyond short-term solutions
These ideas are just the start. Other important policies to consider are creating a multibillion-dollar fund that would provide cash grants to trans women to start businesses, and Medicare for All, which would reduce personal expenses and increase well-being. In addition, there are community visions for a world of fearless freedom, such as the Trans agenda for liberation, hosted at the Transgender Law Center and run by black trans women. The Trans Liberation Agenda develops a broad vision to enable trans women to flourish politically, socially and personally.
Economic ideas alone will not solve all of the challenges faced by trans women of color. Housing, education and a trans-responsive health care system are all critical pieces of the puzzle. The same goes for a drastic change in the police force and the abolition of prisons, institutions that target trans women of color in disproportionately large numbers.
But there is no way to end violence against transgender women of color, especially black trans women, without a radical change in the economic realities of this community. The only question is how far the death toll must reach before we act boldly to end the marginalization of the most marginalized and save lives.