† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Remembering Transgender Victims of Structural Violence
by nancy a heitzeg
Tuesday, November 20th, was The International Day of Transgender Remembrance. This annual event honors those world-wide who have been the victims of anti-trans violence, a violence that is rooted in personal bias and, ultimately fear. Surely there are many victims here – 265 were commemorated this year.. The transgendered are targeted for interpersonal violence at a stunning rate; a report from The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs indicates that trans-women in particular make up nearly 50% of all LGBT murders annually.
But the violence experienced by the transgendered – indeed by all oppressed peoples – is structural as well. Whatever the immediate toll of direct interpersonal violence, the daily grind of systematic barriers carries an immeasurable impact too. In a culture dominated by a rigid gender binary - one linked closely with compulsive heterosexuality – the transgendered face marginalization at many turns – employment, housing, health care and more. (Tragically, given their major contributions to Gay Liberation, the transgendered often experience marginalization within the mainstream gay/lesbian movement as well.)
Such extreme marginalization not only creates the context that makes the transgendered targets of interpersonal violence, it is in effect a violence of its own. As Iris Marion Young notes in Five Faces of Oppression:
“Many groups suffer the oppression of systemic violence…Violence is systemic because it is directed at members of a group simply because they are members of that group… Violence is a social practice…
Group-directed violence is institutionalized and systemic. To the degree that institutions and social practices encourage, tolerate, or enable the perpetration of this violence, these institutions and practices are unjust and should be reformed.”
Of all the systemic violence experienced by the transgendered, perhaps none is so direct and well-documented as that meted out by the criminal injustice system. (Queer (In)Justice: The Criminalization of LGBT People in the United States by Joey Mogul, Andrea Ritchie and Kay Whitlock is the definitive sources on the range of abuses here.) At every juncture from policing to prison, the transgendered suffer the systems’ extremes of violence and abuse. Of course, this intersects as always with race/ethnicity and class as documented below by the flow chart form the Sylvia Rivera Law Project.
Today, we would like to take a moment to honor and acknowledge those transgender victims of structural violence, remembering those, be they alive or dead, who have suffered at the hand of the legal system, who have endured criminal injustice. We highlight a few names, a few stories, with the knowledge that there are many many more to be told.