Vicky Thompson, a 21-year-old trans woman has died after being placed in an all-male prison. This news, sadly and yet ironically, was announced on the evening before Trans Day of Remembrance (TDOR) 2015, and a week after a petition was started for another trans woman to be moved from a male prison.
TDOR is marked annually on November 20th across the world to remember the lives of trans people who have been killed at the hands of anti-transgender violence and hate. ‘Transgender’, more commonly shortened to ‘trans’, is a word used to describe individuals who don’t identify with the gender they were labelled at birth. This year alone 271 murders have been reported, the majority trans women of colour, and trans youth aged 21 and under. This number does not even include those who took their own lives, or those who were not recognised at the time of their death as being the gender they felt.
Vicky Thompson’s death comes after another trans woman petitioned to be moved from an all male prison. Tara Hudson, a 26-year-old trans woman, was sentenced and placed in Bristol prison earlier this year. Her mother, Jackie Brooklyn, feared for her safety and well being as the only female in a men’s prison. The petition received over 150,000 signatures and media attention, since then Ms Hudson has been moved to a female prison. This is now leading to questions about the legality of holding transgender inmates in prisons that don’t reflect their gender identity.
Had Vicky Thompson been in a female prison she may still be alive today.
However these deaths are not a tragedy, one life lost would be tragic, 271 is a humanitarian issue that needs to be dealt with. The number of trans people being murdered is not going down either; in fact it is going up from 226 reported murders last year. How many more deaths and acts of violence will it take for change to happen?
Going through the list of trans people who have been brutally murdered makes for an horrific read, with one woman’s body being cut up and parts being boiled on the kitchen stove. No one deserves to die like this, and certainly not for being true to themselves.
Governments and societies across the world need to protect trans lives and recognise them as people with the same level of rights as anyone else. We live in a world where it is still legal to fire someone for changing their gender, to deny the use of the bathroom, and the right to stay married.
We need to educate people and realise our differences are not something we should ostracize ourselves over, but instead come together to learn from and appreciate the characteristics that make us who we are, no matter what these differences are – gender, sexuality, race, religion, ethnicity, creed, or ability.
Shakespeare summarised what it is to be human in his play The Merchant of Venice though the character Shylock, a Jewish man living in a predominantly Christian era. In Shylock’s famous monologue he states, “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?”
These three questions still are still relevant today and capture what is means to be diverse and yet the same, human.
It is my hope that soon there won’t be the need for a Trans Day of Remembrance or an International Coming Out Day. It would be fantastic if in the next few years we look back on these days and wonder why we ever needed these days. But the realist in me knows that this is a farfetched dream and we are nowhere near that point.
This year has been branded the year of all things trans, with celebrity figures such as Caitlyn Jenner coming out, movies being released with trans narratives. But are we doing it the right way? Stonewall the movie, released earlier this year, supposedly depicted the Stonewall riots which transformed LGBT history, however the film conveniently left out trans women of colour who were at the forefront of the movement. Trans people are dying, and we are erasing their existence. If I sound angry, it is because I am. Trans people deserve for their voices to be heard, their stories to be told in their own words, to express themselves without fear of judgement or abuse.