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December 14, 2011

Trans women are disproportionately impacted by murder and violence, and yet there is a serious gap in anti-violence and anti-oppression organizing when it comes to people who live at the intersection of being both trans and a woman.

November 20th of each year is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Events across the United States and the world are held to memorialize trans people who were killed in the past year. The murders are called anti-trans violence, even though the dead are exclusively trans women or people who were female-presenting at the time of their death. If being a trans person were the main factor, why are there not roughly equivalent numbers of male trans people who are targeted I believe it's because these women are no less the targets of anti-female violence than they are of anti-trans violence.

The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects, which tracks the murders of people in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and HIV affected communities in an annual Hate Violence Report, has found that trans women are disproportionately impacted by murder. In 2010, 44 percent of LGBTQH (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and HIV-affected) murder victims were trans women, and in 2009 trans women were 50 percent of murder victims. Yet trans people as a whole are only about 1 percent of the LGBTQH population. Trans women also more often experienced multiple forms of violence and more severe violence, as well as more police bias and violence.

The Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project, which I organize, is a trans feminist initiative addressing all aspects of violence experienced by trans women.

As people who are both female and trans, trans women experience the overlapping effects of anti-trans and anti-female discrimination and violence. In her book, Whipping Girl, Julia Serano popularized the term "trans-misogyny" to describe the unique intersection of discrimination and violence that is simultaneously anti-trans and anti-female. It is trans-misogyny that is the focus of the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project.

Anti-violence organizing that addresses violence against women generally focuses on cis (non-trans) women, while failing to account for violence against trans women. And anti-violence organizing that addresses violence against trans people generally tends to treat violence against trans people as nongendered, which also fails to account for violence against trans women.

Trans women experience anti-female violence and discrimination as women. But this gendered violence and discrimination is masked by gender-neutral language identifying it as against trans people. Framing violence and discrimination against trans women purely anti-trans -- instead of anti-female -- prevents us from understanding its intersectional roots.

This year, the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force released, Injustice at Every Turn, a national survey of discrimination against trans people. Significant gender differences are documented throughout the report with trans women and girls experiencing higher rates of violence and discrimination than that of male and nonbinary trans people.

Trans women experience higher rates of physical and sexual assault, less advancement in education and more discrimination in hiring. They are more likely to be fired and denied promotions, more likely to do survival sex work or trade sex for housing and are more often affected by HIV. They are also more likely to have a court stop or limit their relationship with their children, are at increased risk of incarceration, serve more time and experience greater physical and sexualized assault from law enforcement and while incarcerated.

While the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project believes that gender differences in violence and discrimination are important, we also believe that racialized violence and discrimination are no less important. The publications, Injustice at Every Turn and Hate Violence Report show that trans women of color disproportionately bear the brunt of the violence and discrimination.

Too often, violence against trans women is not seen as violence against women. But as the scholar and activist, Barbara Smith, said, "Feminism is the political theory and practice to free all women; women of color, working-class women, poor women, physically challenged women, lesbians, old women, as well as white economically privileged heterosexual women."

This is the feminism on which the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project is based. Trans women are women, and so their issues are feminist issues. We agree with Smith: "Anything less than this is not feminism, but merely female self-aggrandizement."