Elie Che, a 23-year-old transgender woman, was found dead on Aug. 31 at Orchard Beach shore in the Bronx, with her death being ruled as an accidental drowning by the city medical examiner’s office.
However, before the cause of death was revealed, many media outlets and trans rights activists assumed her death was a result of a rise in violence towards trans women. In 2020, there have been at least 26 reported cases of transgender or gender non-comforming people who have suffered violent deaths, according to The Human Rights Campaign. In an Instagram post before her death, Elie drew attention to the struggles of many transgender women to merely survive. Given the number of deaths this year, it is imperative that we are concerned for the safety of the transgender community.
A 2012 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) revealed that transgender people — mainly transgender people of color — experience disproportionate amounts of severe violence. LGBTQ+ people of color were 1.82 times more likely to experience physical violence, as compared to white LGBTQ+ survivors and victims.
Since we recognize that transgender people — especially transgender people of color — experience violence at disproportionately high rates, what can we do about it?
While there are organizations — which anyone can donate to — that advocate for trans lives, there are also federal protections that can be put in place to shield transgender people from violence, as well as hold their assailants accountable.
Given the upcoming presidential election, both candidates have different ways of tackling this issue.
As of now, President Trump has not enacted or promoted any policy which would help stop violence against transgender or gender non-comforming people, nor does his official website offer any insight as to what his plans are for the LGBTQ+ community. In the past four years, his administration has enacted several rulings that have negatively affected transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. These have included rolling back healthcare protections for transgender individuals and banning transgender people from joining the military.
Former Vice President Joe Biden created the Violence Against Women Act of 1994, and in 2013 championed a reauthorization of the law to include protections for LGBTQ+ people. Currently, there is a proposed Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2019, but Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is refusing to bring the bill to the Senate floor. Biden also plans on enacting the LGBTQ Essential Data Act which would “collect a wide variety of critical data about anti-trans violence and the factors that drive it.” The rest of Biden’s plans in order to assist the LGBTQ+ community are listed on his website.
While there are larger legal protections that can be made to prevent violence against transgender people, what can be done to help transgender people on a smaller scale?
As of 2019, there are 328.2 million people in the U.S., and as of 2016 there are 1.4 million people in the U.S. that identify as transgender — so in the grand scheme of things, the odds of encountering someone who identifies as transgender are relatively low. However, this does not mean there are no ways to help spread awareness or lift up the trans community.
Social media is a great way to spread awareness about violence against the trans community. Posting and talking about the disproportionate amount of violence trans individuals are subject to is a great way to inform people about this underrepresented and marginalized community. However, this is not the ultimate solution for bringing justice to trans and nonbinary individuals.
A 2018 FBI Hate Crime Statistic stated that out of 8,496 bias-motivated offenses, 184 were motivated by a gender identity bias, with 157 being anti-transgender and the other 27 being anti-gender non-conforming. Clearly, transphobia still drives people to be hateful toward and unaccepting of transgender people, and in extreme cases lead to the abuse or death of a transgender person.
In our day-to–day lives, if we hear someone speaking ill of trans people, we should teach them about the psychological and medical basis for someone identifying as transgender, which completely undermines the ideology of transphobia and gives everyone a valid reason to accept and support someone who is trans.
While Elie Che’s death was not a direct result of anti-transgender violence, she had a long life ahead of her, and her death is absolutely tragic. Just as she advocated against violence against the trans community, we must continue her legacy and stand up against this unnecessary violence.
Ian Gere, FCRH ’24, is an environmental studies major from Houston, Texas.