The victims of transphobic violence were once again remembered on 20 November – the 13th Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Last week, Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring Project announced that it had tracked 221 killings of transgender people in the last 12 months (from 20 November 2010 to 14 November 2011).
This compares to 162 murders in 2009 and 179 murders in 2010.
Transgender Europe said that “we are witnessing a significant increase, which points to the extreme level of violence many trans people continue to be exposed to”.
It noted, however, that the figures could also reflect the project’s intensified cooperation and data exchange with organisations that document murders of trans people around the world.
The statistics reveal that trans people were murdered or killed in 26 countries in the last 12 months, with the majority from Brazil (97), Mexico (23), Colombia (19), and Venezuela (14) followed by Argentina (9), Honduras (9), and the USA (9).
Surprisingly, there were only two reports of trans murders in Africa in the last 12 months, probably indicating the paucity of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) groups on the continent that are able to monitor these kinds of incidents.
According to Robert Hamblin from South African transgender rights group Gender DynamiX, it is very difficult to know how many trans people are being murdered in South Africa because South African law does not yet recognise hate crimes and therefore these are not reported at such.
“We don’t have a hate crimes bill drafted or put into action yet. As soon as that is done there will be reporting when there is a crime related to gender identity,” Hamblin told Mambaonline.
A hate crimes task team is being set up by the Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development to investigate murders, rape and attacks on LGBTI people, and one of its tasks is to consider hate crime legislation. The process, however, appears to be taking some time.
Hamblin also noted that “we need to acknowledge how many transgender people die because of social vulnerability. I’m talking about people that don’t have access to basic rights and services because of their gender identity and then become very vulnerable to disease, and especially HIV.”
He said that in the last year four members of a trans support group he has been working with had died as a result “of that kind of vulnerability”.
“Their deaths were directly related to the fact that they were homeless and without resources. They were thrown out of their homes and schools at a young age because they expressed their gender identities very strongly,” he explained.
Trans people have been regularly stymied by Home Affairs when they attempt to change their gender in their identity documents…
Hamblin further urged LGBTI people to be aware of the issue of gender roles in not just trans hate crimes but also those crimes perpetrated against lesbians and gays.
“Currently we in South Africa look at lesbian and gay people as victims of violence, however, it’s very important for lesbian, gay and transgender people to acknowledge that the biggest part of this kind of discrimination is often about transgressing gender boundaries,” he said.
“Often one can keep one’s sexual orientation secret but when you express gender in a non-stereotypical way then your life is most often in danger.”
In a bid to address some of the inequalities facing trans people in South Africa and the continent, Gender DynamiX will be hosting a Regional ‘Trans Health and Advocacy Conference’ in Cape Town from 26 to 28 November.
The event is being held in partnership with the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC).
According to Gender DynamiX, the conference will have a strong focus on access to healthcare for transgender people. It will include workshops and discussion groups identifying key advocacy issues in terms of trans health, as well as discussing and sharing best practices.
In ground-breaking recognition of the importance of trans issues by the government, the participation in the conference of the departments of education and health has been confirmed and a keynote address will be delivered by Prof Eddie Mhlanga, Chief Director of Maternity and Women’s Health with the National Department of Health.
Liesl Theron, also from Gender DynamiX, confirmed that in the last year there has been some progress in dealing with government on trans issues.
“I do think that government departments have more pressure on them from the greater LGBTI sector. People are becoming more accountable now to the LGBTI sector. They had to start paying attention to our requests.”
Theron also revealed that earlier this month the organisation had managed to secure a historic meeting with the Department of Home Affairs for the first time.
Robert Hamblin from Gender DynamiX
This is important because transgender people have been regularly stymied by Home Affairs when they attempt to change their gender in their identity documents.
This despite a 2003 amendment to the law which saw South Africa become one of the first countries to allow people to legally change their gender identity without having to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
“It’s stunning that we have that,” said Theron, “but all along the department didn’t implement it, other than in a few cases in which we took legal action or used the media to put pressure on them”.
She described the meeting as being very positive. “They were willing to sit around the table and discuss the loopholes and way forward and possible training of staff. They also gave us a commitment that within six months they will clear all application backlogs in the department”.
Thanks to continued pressure by community, human rights and civil society groups it seems that the South African government is slowly beginning to acknowledge its LGBTI citizens.
The growing worldwide statistics on the murder of trans people, the ongoing attacks on lesbian women in South Africa and the slow pace in setting up the hate crimes task team, however, suggest that it is pressure that will likely need to remain in place for a long time to come.
For more information on the Trans Health and Advocacy Conference visit www.genderdynamix.co.za.