But underneath the banner year lies a dark truth: A higher profile for transgender Americans hasn’t translated into greater protection.
In fact, just the opposite.
According to transgender advocacy groups, at least 13 trans women have been killed so far this year. Eleven of the 13 victims have been women of color. And four of the deaths have come in just the last month.
That makes this year even deadlier for trans women than 2014, which was already the highest on record.
“We are at a crisis at this point,” Raffi Freedman-Gurspan from the National Center for Transgender Equality, told Al Jazeera.
The latest trans woman to be identified as a victim is Shade Schuler. Dallas police discovered her body in a vacant field July 29, but she was so decomposed that it took two weeks to identify her. The 22-year-old was wearing a black wig, sunglasses and fake fingernails with diamond studs on them when she died, the Dallas Morning News reported.
It’s not yet clear how Schuler died. The same can’t be said for most of her fellow trans victims. Many have been ruled homicides, and some are suspected hate crimes.
@Regrann from @chernobiko – Heart BREAKING News; the 12th Trans Woman of Color to be lynched this year was found this morning in Detroit MI. This murder is so tragic because she was barely 20 years old; a far cry from 66 year old #KCHaggard who was lynched in California last week. #SayHerName #AmberMonroe #BlackLivesMatter #BlackTransLivesMatter #GirlsLikeUs #FolksLikeUs #RedefiningRealness #TransIsBeautiful #CaitlynJenner #TransGriot #Regrann
Amber Monroe was found shot to death in Detroit on Aug. 8. The 20-year-old had been targeted before.
“She’s been shot 2 or 3 times. But this time she didn’t make it,” friend and transgender rights activist Julisa Abad told Fox 2 Detroit. “I’ve witnessed people pushed out of cars, shot, robbed — not a good environment at all.”
Monroe’s killing occurred less than three weeks after two more alleged murders of trans women.
On the morning of July 21, India Clarke was found beaten to death in a park in Tampa. Police said she had also been shot in the head and arm.
Clarke’s slaying was a rarity in that her alleged killer was quickly caught. On July 29, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested 18-year-old Keith Gaillard. The two had a “personal relationship,” officials said, and Gaillard’s DNA was found underneath Clarke’s fingernails as well as on a condom at the scene.
“I’m not glad, because [India’s] gone,” her friend, Charles Thomas, told the Tampa Bay Times. “But I’m glad they did investigate it and her life mattered enough for them to try to find who harmed her.”
Two days after Clarke’s killing, Kenton Craig “KC” Haggard was brutally slaughtered in Fresno in a case activists are calling a hate crime. (Fresno police say there is “no evidence” Haggard was targeted because she was trans.)
It was before dawn on July 23 when someone in a tan SUV called Haggard from across the street. In her knee-length dress and white cardigan, Haggard walked over and leaned into the car.
Minutes later, however, a knife flashed out from the window, slashing Haggard above her shoulder-length hair and spraying her blood in the street. The 66-year-old stumbled and later died at a local hospital, The Washington Post reported last month.
Even as 2015 has proved a groundbreaking year for transgender Americans, with Jenner making international headlines and the Armed Forces ending its ban on trans service members, violence against the community has increased.
The evidence is more than anecdotal. Although hate-motivated violence against LGBT Americans dropped precipitously in 2014, similar violence rose 13 percent for transgender people, according to a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).
According to NCAVP, America’s transgender minority is by far the most at-risk population when it comes to being victims of violence.
The reasons are complex but can be traced to lingering stigmas attached by many to transgender people, Sasha Buchert, staff attorney at the Transgender Law Center, told Yahoo Health. Only 18 states have nondiscrimination policies towards trans individuals, meaning that “in 32 states you can be fired for just being who you are,” she said.
That discrimination puts many trans people in a precarious position where they can’t get the documents they need and sometimes turn to more dangerous, off-the-books employment, Buchert told Yahoo.
“These same individuals are then often the targets of the violent hate crimes and murders previously mentioned, made additionally vulnerable for either being sex workers or being perceived to be sex workers,” she said.
Even worse, trans victims, their families or their friends often have to fight law enforcement to recognize their preferred gender.
Take the most recent trans death: victim No. 13 this year. Shade Schuler apparently chose to live life as a woman, but Dallas police described her as a man.
Supporters took to social media to praise the woman they called Ms. Shade.
“Rest in power, sweet angel,” one wrote.
But many more expressed their anger at the continued killing of trans women in America.
“This is just so crazy,” wrote another Shade supporter. “It seems like you can’t go one week without finding out another sister was murdered.”
Correction: Citing another news source, an earlier version of this article misspelled the name of an activist from the National Center for Transgender Equality. Her name is Raffi Freedman-Gurspan. Also, Amber Monroe was not a student at Wayne State University, according to school officials.