Yesterday, Lisa Mottet (Director of the Transgender Civil Rights Project at The Task Force) and I led a training on gender identity for members of the Community Relations Service of the Department of Justice. These are the folks who go in to mediate when communities are faced with tensions or violence; up until the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act last year, they were restricted to situations of conflict that centered on race or national origin. The new law allows them to add gender, disability, sexual orientation and gender identity to their jurisdiction. This is the first time the federal government has extended protections for transgender people and one of the very first positive mentions of sexual orientation. They have been meeting for trainings and conversations so that they can take on these new responsibilities well.
Over my five years with NCTE, we’ve worked to pass gender-identity inclusive laws and now suddenly we have a new task: working with the government to implement pro-lgbt legislation. Wow … what a different experience to be on the side of putting a law into practice, not just trying to get it through Congress.
When we did the training yesterday, we told them why trans people have good reasons not to trust the government and law enforcement, we shared the stories of Tyra Hunter and Brandon Teena and others, and we explained the extreme violence done to trans people. We pointed out that if 15 trans people are killed in the United States in a given year, and the government records the overall homicide rate as around 15,000, that means that as many as 1 in a 1,000 murders in this country are bias killings against trans people. This is horrific. We shared our resources about communities responding to violence and what we think may help as they mediate conflicts.
We as a community know all of the horrible statistics … but here’s one of the insights I’ve had for my own work: I’ve been struck with the commitment of the folks we’ve been meeting with at the Department of Justice. We’re talking directly with people who are dedicated to following and fully implementing the law and, more importantly, who really do have a commitment to making our country less violent and treating people with the respect and dignity we all deserve. The career they’ve chosen is one which lets them make a difference for people like us. At a hate crimes coalition meeting in January, I was really moved to listen to an FBI agent talk personally what it meant for her to be able to now address crimes against lgbt people. Before, she had the difficult task of explaining to victims of bias-motivated crimes that sexual orientation and gender identity weren’t protected categories under federal law and there was nothing she can do. Now there is and that is a change that is very meaningful to her as well as to us.
Obviously, these are just the very beginning steps in a process that we hope will both save transgender lives and bring about justice when lives are lost. But having a law in place and being able to work to bring the promise of this law to concrete reality in our lives is a much better place to be.