Content Warning: This article contains mentions of anti-trans and anti-Black violence against the Black trans people.
February is Black History Month in the United States. Black trans voices are not heard often enough, despite the disproportionate amount of discrimination Black trans people face even within the LGBTQ+ community.
The LGBTQ+ movement would not be as far as it is now if it were not for Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two trans activists of colour who served as pioneers of the LGBTQ+ community. Johnson and Rivera were prominent figures in the US gay liberation movement of the 1960s and 1970s. This was around the time of the Stonewall riots (1969) and the first ever Pride march (1970).
Nevertheless, Black trans people are often left out of conversations around race and gender identity. The community continues to experience anti-Black transphobic violence. US President Joe Biden has also previously stated that there is still a lot of work to do in ending the ‘epidemic of violence against transgender women of colour and girls of colour’.
Disproportionate Rates of Discrimination
Within the workplace, trans people of colour are more prone to experience discrimination. In general, trans people already earn less than cis people do. However, the gap widens when race is taken into account. 75% of Native American trans people and 43% of Hispanic trans people earn less than $25,000 per year. This is compared to only 17% of white cis people.
A recent National LGBTQ Task Force survey found that Black trans people are subject to extremely high unemployment rates (26%). This percentage is twice as high as other trans people and four times the rate of the general US population. They are also more likely to experience homelessness. Moreover, Black trans people are significantly more affected by HIV. Around 20% are living with the virus, compared to other trans people’s rate of 2.64%.
Given the disproportionate discrimination and their involvement within the community, the Pride flag has progressed to include Black and Brown trans people. The flag consists of black and brown stripes to represent the LGBTQ+ community of colour. The light blue, rose and white stripes symbolise the trans community. The most progressive flag now also includes intersex people.
Racism within the LGBTQ+ Community
The founders of the #BlackLivesMatter movement have always centred LGBTQ+ voices. It is about amplifying all Black voices, including Black trans people. However, the same cannot be said about the wider LGBTQ+ community.
There has been a wave of research in the UK to explore the issue.
Research by Stonewall, one of the leading LGBTQ+ charities in the UK, found that half (51%) of LGBTQ+ BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) people have faced discrimination within the community. This research highlighted the depth of racism within queer and trans spaces.
Discrimination and harassment was especially high for Black queer and trans people, with 61% having reported negative experiences. BAME LGBTQ+ people explained feeling excluded from the community due to the lack of diversity and microaggressions, some feeling that members of the white LGBTQ+ community have taken a movement founded by people of colour and pushed them out. It’s important we remember that racism is not the exclusive preserve of cis heterosexual people. Racism compounding anti-LGBTQ+ prejudices harms the Black trans and queer community further.
The UK Black Pride 2021 Survey explained how Black Pride was specifically founded for Black LGBTQ+ members who felt excluded and discriminated against from the wider LGBTQ+ community. Their survey stated that there continues to be an issue with ‘erasure of and disregard for the lived experiences of LGBTQ+ Black people and people of colour’.
While these vital areas of research have been undertaken in the UK, at the same time both the UK Government’s 2017 National LGBT Survey and the 2021 Sewell Report disregarded and overlooked the impact of racism on the Black queer and trans community.
Violence against Black Trans People
There continues to be a disproportionate amount of anti-Black and transphobic violence against the Black trans community. This violence is specifically prevalent among Black trans women. Many cases are either unreported or do not make the news for a wider audience to know. Unfortunately, this often affects trans women of colour who are less likely to be seen as ‘victim enough’ for people to care.
Many murder victims have been ‘misgendered in local police statements and media reports’, leading to them facing discrimination even after their death. The Human Rights Commission (HRC) has released guidelines for journalists and others who want to report on trans issues.
On Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2021, US President Biden put out a statement acknowledging the horrific violence trans people are subjected to and how disproportionately ‘Black and brown transgender women and girls’ are affected by anti-trans and anti-Black discrimination.
Black Trans Women and Femmes
Writer Trudy coined the term transmisogynoir to define the specific oppression Black trans women and Black trans feminine people experience due to anti-Black, anti-trans and misogynistic discrimination.
There is an additional layer of discrimination Black trans women and Black trans femmes face due to their multiple intersections. Not only are they Black and trans but they are also women or femmes, experiencing trans misogyny and racism.
This highlights that while all Black trans people face violence, Black trans women and femmes are at an increased risk of experiencing abuse and being murdered simply for being who they are.
Fight for and Protect Black Trans People
There is an urgent crisis affecting Black trans and gender diverse people. Therefore, it is important not only to make gender-affirming healthcare more accessible, but also to educate and train non-Black healthcare professionals about systemic racism in order for them to provide better support to Black trans patients.
There needs to be a series of consistent actions from the government and individuals who benefit from their privilege to address the intersection of racism and transmisogyny while amplifying Black trans voices.
How You Can Learn More About Black Trans Experiences
Here is our recommended list of books by Black trans authors:
- Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender
- Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
- Yemaya’s Daughters by Dane Figueroa Edidi
- An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon
- None of the Above: Reflections on Life Beyond the Binary by Travis Alabanza