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Biden Administration Confronts US Anti-Trans Violence

State and Federal Lawmakers Should Address Structural Discrimination

Celebrating the life of Marsha P. Johnson on what would have been her 75th Birthday, members of the LGBTQI+ community and their allies assembled in Washington Square Park in New York City on August 24, 2020. © 2020 Gabriele Holtermann/Sipa via AP Images

To commemorate the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20, the Biden administration issued a report on violence and discrimination against transgender people in the United States. The report outlines positive steps the administration is taking to address the root causes of violence – but progress will be limited unless lawmakers enact laws that support them.

Over the past two years, Human Rights Watch spoke with dozens of transgender survivors of violence, advocates, and service providers in the states of Florida, Ohio, and Texas about the forms anti-transgender violence takes. One of the key findings of that research was that socioeconomic marginalization, such as unemployment, housing insecurity, and a lack of reliable transportation keeps many transgender people in unsafe situations. The most marginalized, particularly Black transgender women, are especially at risk.

The Biden administration’s roadmap, created with input from transgender people and advocates, identifies key concerns and outlines steps the administration has been taking to advance transgender rights. Among these are support for inclusive employment opportunities, health services, housing and homeless shelters, and antiviolence services, which are all badly needed.

Recognizing these factors is laudable, but state and federal lawmakers also need to take concrete steps to address them if meaningful progress is to be achieved.

At a minimum, lawmakers should stop demonizing transgender people and attempting to restrict their rights, and instead enact laws prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity. They should decriminalize sex work, making it easier for transgender sex workers to keep themselves safe and report violence when it occurs. They should explicitly cover gender-affirming care in state Medicaid policies and remove barriers to legal gender recognition to avoid instances in which people are publicly outed as transgender.

To improve support when violence occurs, lawmakers should reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, enact the Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act, and provide training and support to ensure shelters and anti-violence services are truly inclusive. And they should ban the “trans panic” defense, which allows perpetrators of anti-transgender violence to use their own fear or dislike of transgender people as a legal defense to minimize culpability in criminal proceedings when they have harmed or even killed a transgender person.

The Biden administration has identified some ways it can act to curb anti-transgender violence. To do that effectively, federal and state lawmakers will need to demonstrate the same commitment.

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