At nine years old, I learned what it felt like to be persecuted for my identity. I’ll never forget the feeling of my classmate's hands gripping my neck because he was scared and didn't know what I was. For most, it’s hard to imagine facing violence based solely on who you are. But for me and so many others who walk through life as a trans or nonbinary person, this is the reality.
Trans and nonbinary people live in fear of unexpected hate and violence just for wanting — needing — to be our true selves. Time and again we’ve seen how that hate can become deadly when it comes armed.
Living in Baltimore, I am no stranger to gun violence. When I think back on my childhood, I can still hear the bullets hitting and ricocheting off my house. I remember tracing the healed gunshot wound on my father’s stomach with my finger before knowing what caused it. I saw my first dead body before I was 10 years old, something I wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. And living as a Black, nonbinary, and disabled individual, my very existence invites hate and demonization.
Gun violence has stolen the lives of too many of my friends, including my close friend, Bailey Reeves. Her smile brought light to even the darkest of spaces. She could change the entire aura of a room simply with her presence. She was proud of who she was and I loved every ounce of her for that. But Bailey was a trans woman of color, and in this country, that can have fatal consequences. In September, she was shot and killed by a hateful person with a gun.
It is impossible to talk about violence against the trans community without mentioning gun violence. And with Everytown for Gun Safety’s new online database, Everystat, the numbers can speak for themselves. According to Everystat, 74 percent of trans homicides are carried out with guns. In the past three years alone, at least 77 trans people have been shot and killed in the United States. And those numbers only reflect the tragedies that have made the news.
So far this year alone, nearly two dozen trans people have been killed nationwide — the vast majority were killed with a gun and nearly all were Black trans women.
On Transgender Day of Remembrance, I join my community in honoring our own, taken from us too soon. These names include but are not limited to: Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Muhlaysia Booker, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, Zoe Spears, Brooklyn Lindsay, Bee Love Slater, Itali Marlowe, and my dear friend, Bailey Reeves.
If we’re ever going to stop this list of names from growing, we need leaders who have the courage to stand up for those so often silenced by bigotry. We need lawmakers to take action on the crisis happening in the trans community and confront the shootings threatening us. When we keep guns from those who shouldn’t have them, we’re all safer — the trans community included.
The majority of hate crimes affect people of color, religious minorities, and those in the LGBTQ+ community. Under current federal law, many people convicted of a violent hate crime can legally pass a background check, purchase, and possess a firearm. If that’s not enough, bisexual women and transgender people are more likely to report intimate partner violence compared to our cisgender, heterosexual counterparts. If our lawmakers want to address the shootings in this country, they need to acknowledge the disproportionate impact on our community.
Right now, there is virtually no research on the nexus between gun violence and trans people. Deaths in our community rarely get the attention they deserve, and often times my community is misgendered in the news reporting their deaths. In order to understand the role guns play in the larger crisis of violence against the transgender community, we need to fund research that addresses the shootings that hit marginalized communities the hardest.
We should be ashamed that in the land of the free and home of the brave, people who are brave enough to be themselves are not free to live their lives to the fullest. Hate might permeate the hearts of those who are unwilling to understand, but we do not have to accept that as normal. On this day and every day, I will continue to use my voice for members of my community who no longer have the chance. I refuse to stand by and see another person’s life extinguished by a bullet because next time, it could be me.
Destini Philpot is a volunteer with Students Demand Action Baltimore.