Violent murders of Transgender people set to reach an all-time high

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Photo by Sumy Sadruni / AFP
Photo by Sumy Sadruni / AFP

In 2020 the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) recorded 44 known deaths of Transgender and gender-nonconforming people — which was greater than any year since the HRC first began tracking these rates in 2013 — but this year might break that record. With two months left in the year, violent murders of Transgender people are expected to reach an all-time high.

The most recently reported HRC murder of a Transgender person was 39-year-old Rikkey Outumuro, who was shot in Centralia this past October. Outumuro is at least the 44th known violent killing of a Transgender or gender-nonconforming person in 2021. She is the fifth known case from the Pacific Northwest this year: Ollie Taylor, Zoey Martinez, Jo Acker, and Jessi Hart also lost their lives.

The Trump administration contributed to Transgender murder rates in 2020 by fostering racism and transphobia, although much has not improved under the new Biden administration. As of October 2021, according to the HRC, 25 anti-LGBTQ laws have been enacted across the country, including 13 anti-Transgender laws in eight states (out of over 280 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in 33 states, 130 of which were specifically anti-Transgender).

(clockwise from l) Rikkey Outumuro, Zoey Martinez, Jo Acker, Jessi Hart, and Ollie Smith — Photos courtesy of HRC  

The stats
Interpersonal violence makes up a large portion of fatalities against Transgender and gender-nonconforming people. During 2020, about 7 in 10 Transgender or gender-nonconforming people were killed by an acquaintance, friend, family member, or intimate partner.

A 2015 survey found that 54% of Transgender and nonbinary respondents experienced intimate-partner violence during at least one point in their lives. Survivors of intimate-partner violence who are living with their abusers are frequently forced to leave home with few possessions.

According to the HRC, 47% of Transgender people have been sexually assaulted, and one in eight Trans people have participated in sex work for income. Since 2013, 29% of known cases of fatal violence against Transgender people were perpetrated by intimate partners, who may have internalized Transphobia or shame due to the way society hypersexualizes the LGBTQ+ community and stigmatizes relationships.

For Transgender and LGBTQ+ people who are forced to leave their home following abuse, their options are slim. More often than not, LGBTQ+ survivors are turned away from shelters, denied access to domestic violence services, and denied protection orders due to sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result of abuse, over 50% of LGBTQ+ survivors experience homelessness. Transgender survivors are at a particularly increased risk for violence, criminalization, sexual exploitation, and trafficking.

The HRC estimates that Black Transgender women are five times more likely to experience a violent killing, in comparison to the general population. Disproportionate violence occurs against Transgender women of color, particularly due to the combination of anti-Trans stigma, sexism, and racism.

During 2020, the United States saw over 10,000 hate crimes that involved a firearm, which equates to over 28 firearm-related hate crimes per day. According to the HRC, three out of four confirmed murders against Transgender people involved a gun, and about eight in ten murders of Black Transgender women involved a gun. The easy access to firearms in the United States allows for greater hate crimes against people, specifically those whose are multiply marginalized.

In schools, 84% of Transgender youth report not feeling safe in classrooms all the time, and 40% of homeless youth identify with the LGBTQ+ community.

Furthermore, the name and gender on legal IDs do not reflect 68% of Transgender people. The employment rate in the Transgender community is three times higher than that of the general population. One in three Transgender people report that a doctor or healthcare provider has refused to see them as a patient because of their actual or perceived gender identity.

The causes
What causes increased rates of interpersonal violence against the Transgender population? According to the HRC, it begins with dehumanization and anti-Trans stigma, which includes the lack of an accepting family, a hostile political environment, and cultural marginalization and invisibility.

At least three in four victims of fatal violence will be misgendered in initial police and media reports regarding their deaths, which contributes to marginalization. It also leads to underreported cases of murders of Transgender people across the nation, as well as dead-naming.

Dehumanization and anti-Trans stigma lead to the denial of opportunities, such as setbacks in education, barriers to legal identification, employment discrimination, and exclusion from healthcare and social services, among others. The denial of opportunities leads to risk factors such as domestic violence and sexual assault, poverty and homelessness, physical and mental health disparities, and engagement in sex survival work.

The COVID-19 pandemic has played a critical role in the difficulties that interpersonal violence survivors face. The HRC released a report that stated that isolation and financial stressors caused by the pandemic have increased the risk of interpersonal violence — a risk that is higher for LGBTQ+ people in comparison to the general population. In particular, the Transgender community faces greater rates of hate-motivated violence, which can take the form of intimate-partner violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance
Transgender Day of Remembrance falls on Nov. 20, and the Diversity Alliance of Puget Sound invites people to join it in honoring and remembering the Transgender lives that were taken from the community. There will be a memorial program at the Washington Historical Society Auditorium (1911 Pacific Ave, Tacoma), with speakers (including the family of Zoey Martinez), and a candlelight vigil in both Tacoma and Seattle from 6 to 8 p.m., which will also be livestreamed.

For more information and to get involved, visit