From left: Serenity Hollis, Sophie Vasquez, and Bianca "Muffin" Bankz

After the Deadliest Year for Transgender People, We Remember Those We Lost

This year, 2021, marks the deadliest year for transgender people in recent history. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), which began monitoring the murders of transgender people in 2013, reported that at least 50 were killed this past year, and most of them were Black and Latina women. This highlights a trend in growing violence toward the transgender community and particularly those of color, as the previous record holder for the deadliest year was 2020 with 44 murders recorded.

These numbers, horrific as they are, need to be understood in further context so as to not sensationalize the loss of life. A wider system of oppression and violence faces the trans community in forms of anti-LGBTQ legislation and discrimination. While the HRC’s report showcases the most atrocious form in which bigotry against trans people manifests, understanding the larger culture of violence facing them should not be reduced to counting deaths.

As GLAAD notes in its response to the HRC’s report, even the number of transgender people murdered recorded is likely to be inaccurate because media coverage of the deaths often misgenders and deadnames those who have been killed. Indeed, the HRC has additional data that shows at least 14 other transgender people passed away in circumstances in which authorities had not yet determined whether foul play was involved. The organization also notes that most of the victims referenced in its report had their gender identities and names incorrectly reported by news outlets and law enforcement.

Moreover, the rise in violence coincided with a broader rise in anti-LGBTQ sentiments. This year beat 2015 as the worst year for LGBTQ legislation, with 17 discriminatory bills passed by May. Further, GLAAD notes in its report on Southern news sources that the LGBTQ community still has no explicit federal protections in housing, education, and public accommodations, meaning legislation designed to assist LGBTQ people has only gotten worse when there was clear need for improvement.

The government’s inaction regarding the protection of trans people — and in some cases its active attacks against their protection — hits at the heart of the rise of violence against the trans community. As the HRC finds in its report, “Dismantling a Culture of Violence,” trans and nonbinary people often have increased risk factors for becoming a victim of violence because of the marginalization they face at all levels of life. Between transphobic legislation at the national level and the 75 percent of LGBTQ youth who hear their family make disparaging remarks about their identity at the domestic level, trans people are constantly denied acceptance, opportunity, and ultimately safety.

Many states still do not protect trans people in their hate crime legislation. In Georgia specifically, gender identity was not included in hate crime legislation passed in June 2020. The ramifications of governmental inaction are already evident in the tragic number of trans people murdered in just the past two years. They are even more evident when noting that last year saw a 43 percent increase in anti-LGBTQ hate groups, which fuel bigotry toward trans people and use their lack of protections to perpetuate the violence enacted against them.

Even though these hate groups take advantage of the lack of governmental protections for the LGBTQ community, this absence runs against the beliefs of most of them. According to GLAAD, “Most Americans believe that LGBTQ people have federal protections in areas of life in which they do not, particularly in states across the South, where a majority of LGBTQ people live.” As of 2021, Georgia also has no explicit protections against discrimination in education, housing, and public spaces. While moves have been made at the federal level (e.g., the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia), the dearth of in-state protections has had an immediate impact on the lives of trans people — an impact that all too often has manifested in murder.

While trans people have had their rights taken and withheld from them, gun rights have continued to be protected despite the part firearms have played in the violence targeting trans communities. In a study conducted by HRC, Every Town for Gun Safety Support Fund, Giffords Law Center, and Equality Florida, 10,000 hate crimes per year involve guns, equating to 28 per day. In the trans community, gun violence is magnified: three-quarters of murdered trans people were killed with guns. Georgia has had much impetus to look at gun reform this past year after eight people — most of whom were Asian women — were murdered in a mass shooting in Atlanta in March. State senators instead voted to loosen state gun regulations within two weeks of the tragic event. That no actions have been taken to fight against gun violence demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the lives of those most at risk: marginalized people like the trans community.

The culture of violence threatening trans people is exacerbated when gender identity intersects with race. As stated before, most of the victims in the HRC’s report were transwomen of color, with Black and Latina transwomen being the most targeted. Indeed, the rate of gun violence against Black transwomen is significantly higher than the rest of the trans community with eight out of ten murdered Black trans women dying as a result of firearms. The transphobia behind these murders thus intermingles with sexism and racism, putting these people more at risk.

This was unfortunately the case for the three Georgia women in the HRC report, all of whom were trans women of color.

Bianca “Muffin” Bankz was a Black trans woman in her early 30s who was murdered on January 17. Her friends gave her the nickname “Muffin” because of her love of blueberry muffins. Bankz, who had struggled with homelessness, had only just moved into her apartment a few weeks before her death. The Advocate‘s report on her murder shows that she was looking to escape poverty and had a job interview scheduled the day after her life was taken. Bankz was shot to death in her own home.

Sophie Vásquez was a 36-year-old Latina trans woman who was murdered on May 4 in Brookhaven. She was very involved in the transgender community as part of Community EsTr(El/La), a support group that serves as a safety network for transgender people in the Atlanta area and that also held a candlelight vigil after Vásquez’s death. Those who knew her described Vásquez as being very kind and having a bright personality. She was shot multiple times inside her own home.

Serenity Hollis was a 24-year-old Black transwoman who was murdered in Albany, Georgia. Hollis was loved by those around her. In the HRC’s coverage of her death, her mother stated “the person that’s responsible has no idea what they took from us … I absolutely want to see that justice is served.” Justice has not been served. She was shot in the head while walking down the street. The police report and local news authorities deadnamed and misgendered her.

In all three cases in Georgia, the people murdered were trans women of color who were gunned down in acts of hatred toward their gender identity. In all three cases, this hatred continued after death by news and police reports that denied the victim her identity as a woman. In all three cases, the perpetrator could not be prosecuted under hate crime legislation due to gender identity not being explicitly stated in Georgia law.

While Bankz, Vásquez, and Hollis’s deaths have been honored and remembered with vigils, it is important to consider what people outside the trans community can do to prevent more murders. All three women were part of supportive networks, whether it was a trans community group or family. They did their part in protecting themselves against the hatred they never deserved to face. It is time the rest of Georgia did its part.

Namely, Georgia’s government officials need to tackle the culture of violence toward the trans community through legislation. Gender identity should be protected by hate crime laws. Employment, housing, education, and public space discrimination protection for LGBTQ+ people should also be established at the state level. Community support groups for trans people should be commended and supported. Voters should keep these points in mind when voting officials into office.

The hatred that produced the unfortunate list of trans people who died this year will not go away on its own. As 2022 approaches, all minds need to focus on creating a safer world for trans people, women, and people of color through concrete legislation so that 2021’s horrible record will not be broken.