By Larissa Karr, Arts and Features Editor
September 2, 2015
Eighteen murders of transgender individuals were reported in 2015 alone, and the trend shows no sign of slowing down.
According to a report by the National Center for Transgender Equality, violence and aggression toward transgender individuals is a national issue, with the strongest concentration of negative attitudes toward transgender individuals located in the South.
At UNC Asheville, organizations like the Trans Student Union and student-run plays like Qtopia, are raising awareness of the transgender community.
Ezra Campbell, a Qtopia cast member, says transgender individuals are in need of nationwide attention.
“There hasn’t been a week this year where there hasn’t been a trans-person murdered,” Campbell says. “It will be a big news story and then it will die down, and it’s somehow okay to name these people using their birth names. That is absolutely not necessary.”
The shift in violence toward transgender individuals has increased in the United States, according to a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. As a result, activists staged “die-ins” in cities like Cincinnati to mourn the loss of transgender people.
Forty-one percent of transgender individuals commit suicide, according to a 2010 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Transgender individuals are oftentimes the subject of misconception, one being that a person has to have a sex change in order to be transgender, according to Injustice at Every Turn: A Report of the National Transgender Discrimination Survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality.
Beck Martens, a sophomore majoring in sociology and women’s, gender and sexuality studies, is one of the people at UNCA who is working to combat these misconceptions.
“Transgender is a term that encompasses people who get sex change surgery and get top or bottom surgery, then come the people who don’t undergo top or bottom surgery,” Martens says. “It is a big umbrella term that encompasses a lot of things.”
Organizations like the Trans Student Union, which Martens recently helped co-found, are part of a movement on campus to help generate more education about transgendered individuals.
Qtopia was also a part of this movement, as it featured vignettes including characters based on hybrids of real people, such as Campbell’s character, a trans man scared of telling the truth about himself to a female because of the fact that she might reject him. The play also gave a comprehensive clarification about the different types of sexualities and gender identities that exist.
“At the end of the semester, I got invited to do a read-through for the queer youth theatre class, so I took two of my trans friends just because there wasn’t a lot of trans voice in the piece,” Campbell says. “It was very cisgender, very white and so that was part of why I was there, and something just told me that this is an important thing.”
Another recent, and violent, trend is intense persecution directed toward black transgender individuals. A survey by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documenting hate crimes reiterates this, as 72 percent of the victims were trans women and 78 percent were black.
“I think it is much more heightened if you are trans-feminine identified, and certainly even more so if you’re trans-feminine and you’re a person of color,” Campbell says. “I feel that a lot of circumstances lead those individuals into circumstances that aren’t necessarily safe, oppressive situations, and also I feel that society thinks that it’s OK.”
In Asheville, student activists like Martens and Campbell say they are earnest to do what they can in order to raise awareness amongst fellow students and members of the community.
Val Cruchon, a junior majoring in women’s, gender and sexuality studies at UNCA, was particularly excited to work with children through UNCA’s LGBT+ rights group, Alliance.
“When I came here, I knew that what I wanted to do, eventually, would be to work with queer youth when I graduate,” Cruchon said. “Then, I found Alliance and thought that this
would be a great segue into what I hoped to do, so that was kind of what got me interested and started.”
For Cruchon, who identifies as trans-masculine, but also pansexual and pan-romantic, trans is one of many identities that fall under the blanket term of queer.
Many transgender people are fine with identifying as queer, Cruchon says, because it is essentially a term that represents a fluidity of identity and a state of constant change.
Whether or not the violence against transgender individuals is poised to change, however, rests inside an unknown forecast.