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Under Siege: Trans People, Muslim Americans and Hate

From the editor's desk

It’s one thing to be gay or lesbian in America. Historically, your community has been subjected to harassment, ridicule, defamation and even the simple refusal to accept that you exist. Even today, when same-sex marriage seems poised to become the law of the land, you still face hate violence and discrimination regularly. 

But imagine that within the larger LGBT community, you are a transgender person — someone who feels that the sex they were assigned at birth does not match the person they really are inside. To enormous numbers of Americans, you are seen as bizarre at best and a freak at worst, or perhaps a liar who is just angling to sneak into bathrooms belonging to another gender to assault your next victim.

Then imagine that you’re a trans woman of color.

Earlier research by the Southern Poverty Law Center has shown clearly that LGBT people are the American minority most victimized by violent hate crime. But within that demographic, it seems certain, based on anecdotal evidence, that trans people are even more victimized. Trans women (people who identify as women despite their physical birth traits) are more victimized than trans men. And trans women of color are almost certainly more victimized than all of the above.

Or to put it another way: Trans women of color, a relatively small community in America, are almost certainly the most victimized by violent hate crime of all.

Twelve years ago, the Intelligence Report took its first look at the plight of trans people, particularly women, who were being murdered at what seemed like an astronomical rate. In this issue, we take another look at the lives and deaths of some of these women, and we find that little has improved in the last decade.

 Four out of 10 trans people have attempted suicide, according to a recent survey. Vast numbers are rejected by their parents, harassed by the authorities, and forced into joblessness and homelessness. Almost 80% of those lucky enough to find jobs say they have been mistreated at work. Police can be unsympathetic or worse — much worse. Even some feminists despise trans women, saying they’re not women at all. And just 18 states have laws that clearly prohibit employment discrimination based on gender identity or expression.

As The Advocate, a newspaper aimed at the LGBT community, reported recently, the anti-trans atmosphere is intensifying. “Even the most ardent antigay conservatives likely recognize that apocalyptic talk about the end of society being brought about by two men or two women being able to marry will soon have to be retired,” the paper said. “A new monster is required for their scary stories.”

Trans people are not the only ones about whom “scary stories” are being told — and who are suffering from hatred and violence as a result. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attack, the atrocities being carried out regularly by the Islamic State, and the May attack on what was billed as a “free speech” event in Texas, Muslims in this country have come to feel that they are under siege. Politicians, cable and radio hosts, pundits and others have had a field day describing Islam as the enemy.

After two jihadists were killed while attacking the Garland, Texas, Muhammad cartoon contest — where $10,000 was awarded to the “artist” who came up with the most mocking drawing of the Muslim prophet — event organizer Pamela Geller crowed that it was a victory for “truth and freedom.” She depicted herself as a human rights activist fighting for freedom of speech against the censors.

But that didn’t fly with many people. Most interviewers treated her as a provocateur, not a free speech champion. As The Week reported, the debate came to be about “whether Pam Geller is a bigoted champion of free speech or just a bigot. You know you’re not faring well when Donald Trump calls you an ‘obnoxious blowhard’ whose ‘taunting’ Mohammed-drawing event was ‘disgusting.’”

In this issue, we profile a dozen of the women, including Geller, who have been most active in the American anti-Muslim movement. These people regularly defame Muslims with utter falsehoods, attack President Obama as a Muslim agent, and fail to distinguish between radical Islamists and the vast majority of Muslims.

The threat of radical jihadists is unquestionably real. The events of 9/11, not to mention those in Paris, Copenhagen, North Africa and Garland, Texas, show that plainly. But the vast majority of American Muslims, just like that of trans men and women, pose no threat to the rest of us — no matter what the propagandists say.