It’s pride month but one thing we’re definitely not talking enough about are the increasing number of Black and Latina trans women dying. Violence against the transgender community — transgender women especially — is no joke and it disproportionately affects trans women of color. In fact, the recent death of Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latina who was found dead in her cell in Rikers Island, is bringing national attention to a nationwide epidemic of violence towards the transgender community.
Polanco, of House of Xtravaganza, died on Friday, June 7. She was arrested on April 13 but detained since April 16 on misdemeanor charges. According to reports, she was supposed to be released this week. No confirmations regarding the cause of her death have been made and her family demands answers.
“We are heartbroken over the death of our beloved Layleen, whose bright light was an inspiration to all who knew her,” Layleen’s family said in a statement that was recently released. “As we gather to mourn this tremendous loss, we are left shocked and outraged by the stony silence from the Department of Correction, Mayor’s Office, NYPD, and city government. The family demands answers, and we are entitled to them.”
Layleen’s family and friends claim she would have never harmed herself but suffered from a seizure disorder that was potentially life-threatening. They suspect that if she was unmonitored and left alone at Rikers, it’s very likely that could have been what lead to her death.
RALLY: On Monday we will demand justice for Layleen Polanco Xtravaganza who was found dead in her cell at Rose M Singer Center at Rikers last Friday evening. #CloseRikersNow #CloseRosies #Justice4Layleen #LayleenPolanco https://t.co/Vf25SVip2W pic.twitter.com/Md1r8mvA7L
— Eliel Cruz (@elielcruz) June 9, 2019
Layleen’s death follows the recent deaths of two African American trans women in Dallas. The body of 26-year-old Chynal Lindsey has been under investigation by the Dallas police after it was recovered from White Rock Lake in northeastern Dallas on June 1. Dallas PD chief Renee Hall claims that Lindsey’s body showed “obvious signs of homicidal violence.” Weeks ago, 23-year-old Muhlaysia Booker was shot and killed in Dallas, weeks after a video of her being brutally beaten by men in a parking lot went viral. Dallas police investigated her death as a possible hate crime and now new reports claim that a 34-year-old Black man by the name of Kendrell Lavar Lyles could be responsible for the deaths of Muhlaysia Booker and Chynal Lindsey.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, there were at least 26 deaths in 2018 of transgender people in the U.S. due to fatal violence. The majority being Black transgender women. According to the HRC, the numbers are probably even higher because the data collection regarding the murder of transgender deaths is often “incomplete or unreliable” because deaths often go unreported. In some cases, some victims are not properly identified as transgender in the media.
In 2019, we have already seen quite a number of Black and transgender people die including Dana Martin, a 31-year-old Black transgender woman who was fatally shot in Montgomery, Alabama on January 6, along with other Black transgender women including Jazzaline Ware, Ashanti Carmon, Claire Legato, Muhlaysia Booker, Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington, Paris Cameron, Chynal Lindsey, Chanel Scurlock, and quite a few Latina transgender women who have died in ICE including Johana Medina Leon, and Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez. Transgender women account for 12 percent of the victims of sexual assault. And most of these women who died were under the age of 40. A 2014 report concluded that the average life expectancy of trans women in the Americas is between 30 and 35. Meanwhile, the life expectancy of cisgender women in the states is 78.6 years. That speaks volumes.
We are clearly in the midst of an epidemic against trans people. And these recent deaths prove that the profound discrimination transgender women face in the U.S.— Black and Latina transgender women in particular. A 2018 HRC report shows that trans women of color make up four out of five anti-trans homicides. Black and Latina trans women are especially vulnerable because they face discrimination both for being trans and women of color. They are also often poor because they often face employment discrimination. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, one in five transgender people in the United States has been discriminated when seeking a home, and more than one in ten have been evicted from their homes because of their gender identity. Being unemployed and homeless is a critical issue for transgender people, especially transgender women who are even more vulnerable to being sexually assaulted or killed. Transgender lives are not being valued.
We also have an administration that contributes to discrimination against transgender people. The Trump administration has made moves to ban transgender people from serving in the military, as well as trying to change a Bureau of Prisons policy that would require prisoners to be housed in facilities based on the sex they were assigned at birth. They even have made attempts to introduce new Department of Health and Human Services rules to hospitals and insurance companies to deny patients care based on their personal religious beliefs. This is beyond cruel!
Trans people shouldn’t be fighting for basic access to resources. They shouldn’t be fighting to stay alive. They should be given the same access and respect as everyone else in this country. All humans deserve to be treated with basic dignity and respect. That’s what we’re called to do as a society. Transgender people’s lives matter and we’re not doing enough to protect them.