I recently attended the standing-room-only funeral for Deoni Jones. She was 23 years old, fatally stabbed while waiting at a bus stop in Washington, D.C. Police say they have no evidence that this particular stabbing was related to her gender identity. Regardless, she was one of too many transgender women violently killed.
Funerals are always hard. Funerals for someone murdered are a whole level of different. Anger. Fear. Disbelief. Did I mention anger? Anger that it’s not an isolated incident. Anger that for all the national LGBT organizations here in D.C. and all the advances our community has made, our people are still getting killed, right here, in 2012. Anger that we know it won’t be the last vigil or funeral we will attend for a murdered transgender woman of color.
In 2011 nine other transgender individuals were brutally killed in vicious hate crimes in the U.S.: Cassidy Nathan Vickers, shot in Hollywood, Calif.; Shelley Hilliard, shot in Detroit, Mich., her body burned; Gaurav Gopalan, killed in Washington, D.C.; Camila Guzman, stabbed in New York City; Lashai Mclean, shot in Washington, D.C.; Miss Nate Nate (or Née) Eugene Davis, shot in Houston, Tex.; Marcal Camero Tye, shot and dragged in Arkansas; Tyra Trent, strangled in Baltimore, Md.; Krissy Bates, shot multiple times in Minneapolis. This list is only those who did not survive their attacks. This list is just those in the U.S., in the last year.
In the labor movement, we organize by the spirit of the motto, “An injury to one is an injury to all.” In the LGBT community, we must find that sense of shared struggle with a movement that truly includes all of us. Our people are getting killed. Every one of us has a moral obligation to stand up and talk about it, to find a way to take action, to do more. Those of us who are the “LGB” of our community must stand in real solidarity with our transgender sisters and brothers. Allies, you are just as vital.
There is an inseparable link between violence, discrimination, and economic injustice. Working people across all sectors are facing extraordinary levels of unemployment and underemployment. Youth, immigrants, women, people of color, and LGBT people face disproportionate hardship. Black transgender individuals are estimated to have four times the unemployment rate of the general population.
When people are out of work or underemployed — and can be legally discriminated against in hiring, in most states — individuals are more likely to find themselves in vulnerable positions, in less safe work environments and less safe neighborhoods, and facing fewer options for living with basic human dignity. When people are out of work, struggling with keeping their homes, making the rent, keeping the lights on, the stress and weight of the world grows. And it’s not just LGBT folks; too many people are living in a state of suffering, whether physical or emotional. It takes a toll.
During Deoni’s funeral, as person after person shared their grief, frustration, disbelief, a beautiful thing happened: an overwhelming sense of community solidarity grew. A resolve to support each other, to use our voices, to stand together. To not wait for someone to fix it for us, but to be moved to action. As Pastor Darren Phelps said during the service, “We came to get hope, and to give hope.”
When we celebrate the lives of those lost, sisters like Deoni, we must each consider how we can honor their spirit by changing and strengthening our work. Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
We should not be hopeless, but we should be angry. There are actions that we can take:
- Speaking out against violence: We cannot let hate crimes against our community pass by in silence. In the words of the ACT-UP community, silence equals death. As an LGBT community, we must speak the women’s names aloud, remember them, take the pain of their murders, and use it as our fuel to go out and make it better.
- Educating within the LGBT community: In addition to the work of educating our allies, we must continue to educate within the LGBT community about issues of both gender identity/expression and racial justice. We must do the work to learn what we don’t know, and share what we do. We must have frank conversations and create meaningful action plans to make our work more whole.
- Withdrawing our dollars from corporations that don’t genuinely support LGBT workers: There’s a difference between saying the LGBT community supports people of color and transgender folks within our movement, and actually standing in support of their struggles. While the regular working people and jobless folks in the LGBT community may not have all that mythical gay community disposable income, we absolutely do have strength in numbers, and we should recognize and use our power.
- Fighting for good jobs and economic security:While we continue the fight for the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, we must take action for economic relief that will have a meaningful, immediate impact in workers’ lives. LGBT groups must prioritize fighting for those in deepest struggle within our community. All of us in the LGBT community should be standing up for good jobs that let our community survive and thrive, living as our whole selves and supporting our families with dignity.
That means taking on the fight to protect unemployment insurance as our own. That means standing in solidarity for workers’ right to form a union. In many states, the only protection LGBT workers have from being legally fired or discriminated against in hiring and promotions.
Fighting for good union jobs is one of the strongest paths out of poverty. And fighting poverty — for all people, not just LGBT folks — is vital to stopping violence.