The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

The murder of black transgender women is becoming a crisis

Tanisha Phillips, 20, left, hugs Ruby Corado, founder of Casa Ruby, an outreach center for LGBT people in Washington. Corado started the center several years ago. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

“They’re just getting so blunt,” Ruby Corado said. “It’s just out there. It used to be more isolated.”

Corado could be talking about support for the LGBT community.

The Pride parades across the region this month drew huge crowds. And they’re not just drag queens and shimmy-shimmy dancers with in-your-face protests.

Social media has been filled during Pride Month with heterosexual couples and families showing up in rainbow regalia supporting LGBT rights with the same verve as they would a Fourth of July parade. We’ve got a gay presidential candidate kissing his husband from the podium, Chicago elected an out lesbian as mayor, and even Alaska has not one, but two, transgender politicians in office.

But Corado, who runs the LGBT community center Casa Ruby, wasn’t talking about the social strides her community has made in the 50 years since the Stonewall riots in New York.

No, she’s talking about the recent, breakneck spate of violence and hate crimes against LGBT people in this city and in this nation. Primarily, the targets of this social whiplash have been black transgender women.

“The murder of Black trans women is a crisis,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren tweeted, along with a list of 10 recent victims’ names. “We’ll fight this, and we will continue to say their names.”

It’s become so pronounced, the American Medical Association flagged the pattern.

“According to available tracking, fatal anti-transgender violence in the U.S. is on the rise, and most victims were black transgender women,” said AMA Board member S. Bobby Mukkamala in a statement from the association.

Violence against transgender women isn’t anything new. Corado knows that firsthand.

“This has been going on a very long time, of course,” she said. “And I thought things were so much better in D.C. But, these past few days.”

She walked 2,000 miles to find safety and acceptance

On Friday, she got the news that one of the transgender women who had been nurtured and supported at Casa Ruby, Zoe Spears, was shot dead right across the D.C. border in Maryland.

Spears, 23, had recently found safe housing and told Corado, whom she called “mom,” that she dreamed of being a lawyer.

This is two months after Spears’s friend, a transgender woman named Ashanti Carmon, was killed in the same neighborhood.

Corado and the folks at Casa Ruby were reeling from the news of Spears’s death when they faced an attack in their own safe space.

On Saturday evening, a man parked his car in front of the community center on Georgia Avenue, pulled out a gun and threatened some of the transgender youths staying there, according to a D.C. police report.

Unrelated to that crime, but similar in its hatred, there was a heinous attack on a friend of Corado outside Nellie’s, a Northwest D.C. sports bar with a mostly gay clientele. A group of men beat, bloodied and robbed the man, calling him “faggot,” according to the D.C. police report that listed the incident as a hate crime.

This has been happening more and more in the nation’s capital.

Hate crimes have nearly doubled in Washington in the past two years. And it’s a trend followed by the rest of the nation.

“D.C. is at an all-time high,” professor Brian Levin told my colleagues. Levin led a recent study at the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino.

The District had 209 hate crimes reported in 2018, up from 179 in 2017, 107 in 2016 and 66 in 2015. About half of those crimes were based on sexual orientation, according to the study.

The nation saw the largest number of transgender homicide victims on record in 2017, with 29 killed. Last year, it was 26. And most of them were black transgender women.

But why is this happening? How is it possible in a nation that worships Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox’s style? That had a transgender White House staffer just a couple of years ago?

So many murders on the road to acceptance

“Leadership influences people,” Corado said. “We have an administration where the narrative is to marginalize people that are already marginalized. We have an administration that is fueling the intolerance.”

Corado says Trump administration policies contribute starkly to the rise.

“So much of this comes from the transgender ban in the military,” she said. “Here, military is seen as an institution of pride in the United States, that it’s the best of the best. And when you have a president who says, ‘We don’t want them in the military,’ that’s telling a lot of Americans that transgender people don’t belong anywhere,” she said.

Corado is researching private security options for her shelter and community center. And she will have to create tighter requirements for those looking to stay the night, something she never imagined would happen.

“We’re not going away,” she said. “And I’ve moved from sad to mad. To angry. And we will do what it takes to protect ourselves.”

Twitter: @petulad

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