The Fatal Effects of Transphobia

In May this year, 16 people lost their lives to transphobic violence and hate: 11 in Brazil, and one each in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Venezuela. I know, because just a couple of days ago I read aloud the names of each departed soul at the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDoR) observance in Oakland, CA. Of course, not all the names were known. Most were women, transgendered women, and if their names were not known, we usually knew something of where they lost their lives: their apartments, the street, a bathroom, on a bus… In May, their ages (if known) ranged from 15 to 39. Mercifully, I did not have to read the details of how each person was murdered. After each name, or “name unknown,” a small gong sounded, and I went on to the next person on the list.

When we finished reading the roll of the dead from Nov. 20, 2010 through Nov. 19, 2011, we found we had a significant increase, from the previous year. Transgender people (again, mostly women) are tortured, shot, strangled, burned, stabbed, beaten, dragged to death, or have their throat slit. Death comes suddenly. In the street, on the bus, at home. Frequently, they are dismembered, as Shelley “Treasure” Hilliard was in Detroit, earlier this month – her burnt torso found next to a freeway.

Sometimes they have also been raped.

Transgender Day of Remembrance was founded in 1998 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, in response to the murder of Rita Hester. Rita was stabbed over 20 times in her chest, while at home in her Massachusetts apartment. TDoR has since become an international day of action and mourning. However activists who organize local observances, such as Tiffany Woods, program coordinator for the TransVision Clinic in Alameda County, CA, are sick of the continuing carnage. “I am angry that we still have to put on this memorial, and yes, it is a memorial.” Woods writes, “The murder and violence continue.”

Such mayhem is sickening, uncivilized, and dangerously out of control. The violence against trans women, in particular, also contains a measure of misogyny which should alarm us all. Trans men are also not immune to the violence born of profound ignorance, nurtured in a culture of hate for all who do not conform to the narrowest (and most artificial) binary standards. Trans and gender variant people are subjected to incidents of violence and discrimination which are inflicted on them simply because of their gender expression. We already know that racism, sexism, and homophobia are not only morally wrong, but ultimately counterproductive for a civil society. We need to add transphobia to that list.

As mental health and complementary professionals, we must do a better job of countering the corrosive and brutal effects of transphobia (as well as all other forms of prejudice, social injustice, and hate). If we are presently uncomfortable with serving gender variant and trans people, we can get more training and broaden our understanding of people with non-binary gender. We can even learn to use new pronouns, such as the gender-neutral “hir,” “ze,” or “zir.” Better yet, we can learn to ask people what pronoun they prefer.

We also have easy access to helpful resources, such as the protocols and reports found on Center of Excellence for Transgender Health website (; and the ACA ALGBTIC Competencies for Counseling Transgender Clients (

I also recommend reading the executive summary of Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey (at least!) and many of the excellent publications also found at the Transgender Law Center ( There is no longer any reason for helping professionals to remain uncertain or ignorant about how to assist trans and gender variant clients. The trend now is to consider transgender medicine as primary care medicine – and the other helping professions will follow this course.

As the mother of a trans man, I also know that families attempting to love and cherish their gender variant children are seldom supported in their communities. Such children are still bullied in their schools and treated as pariahs in their neighborhoods. Such cruelty inevitably crushes the young people who are reviled and tormented. According to Laura’s Playground (, “the Transgender Transsexual suicide rate is 31%” and “over 50% of Transsexuals will have had at least one suicide attempt by their 20th birthday. Even more self harm themselves daily either by cutting or self mutilation.” For every trans person who escapes suicide or self-harm,  there is the threat of violence or death at another person’s hands. And for every person who dies simply for being transgendered, there is a mother or father or some other family member or friend who knows what the world has lost.

There are so many opportunities here to show kindness and understanding, and to offer competent, informed, professional assistance to people stressed and stretched beyond the breaking point. You may even save a life or two. There is every reason to get involved and nothing to fear but ignorance itself. And as a mother and a colleague, I will thank you.

For more info:
Remembering Our Dead:
International Day of Remembrance:

Related Articles:
Body Image in Transgendered People
Gender Rules: How Does That Make You Feel?
One Teen is Too Many!

© Copyright 2011 by By Amy Marsh, Sexologist & Consulting Hypnotist (EdD, DHS, CH). All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Amy D

    November 22nd, 2011 at 4:54 PM

    I have never heard the term transphobia used before.

    But no matter the term used to describe it, why can’t we all agree to live and let live?

    What business is it of mine if someone chooses to live life this way?

    If they are happy and abide by the law, why should I care what they do in the privacy of their own homes?

  • JIM

    November 23rd, 2011 at 7:41 AM

    Its ridiculous that people in this day and age continue to behave like savages. And regarding the phobia, I do not think there is a lot of people out there who really HATE transgenders. Its just that they are so narrow-minded that they cannot see someone different. Usually they will not just be transphobic but also racist,sexist and what not. Its their sick mind that drives them to commit such crimes and this really needs to stop.

  • Janice

    November 23rd, 2011 at 3:30 PM

    It must be so confusing to be transgendered and have those feelings of not really knowing where you fit into society. There is the confusion, and add to this the amount of hatred and scorn that this community as a whole faces, and it is unimaginable the kind of hell that so many of them have to endure. Family and friends can be there for you some, but as evidenced by the story above, they can’t always be there to protect them either. When are hate crimes like this going to stop if we as a society as a whole can’t come to some kind of consensus that this is their business and that doing bpdily harm to someone is no way to express your disagreement with their lifestyle.


    November 24th, 2011 at 2:58 PM

    Man, I don’t know what I would do if I knew someone like this.
    I would not resort to violence, but I not sure that I would know how to be friends with them either.
    I guess on some level I just don’t agree with that lifestyle and would struggle with being open to that in my life.

  • Denny

    November 25th, 2011 at 12:42 AM

    We need to have some marches for these really.Its horrible how hate against someone who has done zero harm to you can turn into murder.Its a bad bad world and anybody ‘different’ is made a target.Horrible situation but if we don’t stand up now we never will!

  • Joni

    November 27th, 2011 at 10:48 AM

    In my little corner of the world I have have never even heard of a remembrance day for transgenders, and considering how conservative most people are around here, I don’t think that this is going on anyone’s calendar that I know! But it is good that families of those who have lost those that they love to this kind of violence have an outlet to grieve with one another and to remember them in a forgiving and emotionally freeing way.

  • Yasmine Connery

    November 28th, 2011 at 11:54 AM

    Maybe we should stop saying “phobe” and start saying “shameless bigot” instead for those too arrogant and ignorant to understand what that is. I think it’s about time we thought about instituting an automatic death penalty for hate crimes. Seriously, what’s needed is a very, very big deterrent.

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