Recently I had the honor of testifying before congress for the first congressional forum to address the violence against trans women, particularly trans women of color. Below is my statements, for those who were unable to attend here is the link to the full forum.
Good Afternoon Representatives,
My name is Joanna Cifredo I am a local writer and health equity advocate. I currently sit on the Board of Directors to Whitman Walker Health. DC metro’s largest health care provider to the trans community and I am also an Advisor to the the DC Mayor’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. On a personal level I am also a transgender Latina woman and a survivor of physical and sexual violence. On November 20th we will commemorate Transgender Day of Remembrance. Communities across our nation will take a moment to honor the names of the more than 20 trans women whose lives were taken away from us far too soon by transphobia the majority of whom were of color.
Today I am here to share with you my observations as a service provider and as a person who inhabits a vessel of vulnerability. I hope to provide you context to the complex variables that make black and brown trans feminine bodies so vulnerable to violence. To do this we must evaluate the different systems in which these bodies navigate. We must recognize how race, socioeconomic status, immigration status, ability, English proficiency all contribute to the violence facing trans women of color. Most importantly what role does the state play in all of this. However, before we get to that let’s look at the landscape for trans women.
A recent report by The National Center for Transgender Equality accurately titled ‘Injustice at Every Turn’ took an in depth look at the plight of trans people in the US. The survey revealed what many of us in the trans community already know. Respondents were nearly four times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000, compared to the general population. 26% of respondents reported being fired due to their gender identity and as a result another 50% have been harassed at the workplace, myself included.
In that same survey one-fifth of the respondents said they’d been homeless at some point, myself included. While more than half reported being harassed at a homeless shelter by residents and or staff, myself included. Nearly one-third said they were turned away altogether. An alarming 41% revealed having attempted suicide, myself included and nearly a quarter reported having been sexually assaulted, myself included. 19% said they had been refused medical care due to their gender status, with higher numbers among people of color, myself included. And yet still, there is no protections on the basis of gender identity for housing, public accommodations or employment at the federal level.
A recent survey by the Human Rights Campaign revealed that among American voters only 22% personally knew someone that is trans. This limited exposure to trans people is important. Because in absence of context or countering imagery trans women, particularly trans women of color are viewed through a distorted lens. This distorted lens is not just seen by our fellow citizens but by the state as well. Everyday that goes by where trans people lack federal protections and the full rights and privileges of citizenship is a day where that state fails to recognize the humanity of trans people.
Since the time of Christine Jorgensen the media has played a pivotal role in shaping the way in which we view trans people and the narrative by which we tell their stories. These images have long depicted trans people as merely sex workers, drug addicts and devious ‘men’ in dresses out to lure unsuspecting men into bed; background characters, void of nuance, context and humanity. Talk shows for many years have objectified and exploit the desire for trans women to be seen, recognized and affirmed for who they really are, capitalize on their yearnings by placing solicitous headlines to boost ratings and parade trans women as modern day freak shows. These shows invite the public to treat trans bodies as cadavers open for public dissection, free to be scrutinized and questioned. Further separating the trans individual from their humanity.
This context is important because in the absence of legal protections the state affirms prejudicial and transphobic sentiments that have long been fed by these tainted images. Thereby reinforcing a pernicious cycle of discrimination and dehumanization that facilitates a culture that deems trans women of color as inferior and unworthy of security. A culture in which trans people are left unprotected and increasingly vulnerable in a climate is progressively hostile towards these bodies.
The health, educational and financial disparities within trans communities of color are deep and it is the responsibility of the state to recognize and respond to the needs of its populace and seek reparations for injuries caused by misrecognition on behalf of the state. By not affording trans people full legal protections this undermines trans people’s ability to exercise their human rights of self determination, safety and the pursuit of happiness. Trans people need and deserve recognition, not solely of our existence but of our humanity as well, we need respect and resources and that begins with the state.