Not a Laughing Matter: #BlackTransLivesMatter

Photo credit: Ted Eytan

I have never heard of Lil Duval before this weekend, but his dangerous and hateful comments about killing trans women that have garnered significant media attention are all too familiar—and they cannot be tolerated.  We cannot espouse that #BlackLivesMatter one moment, yet erase and devalue certain black lives—trans lives in particular— the next.  As an advocate for reproductive rights and health and reproductive justice, I believe that honoring the lives of all individuals is elemental to achieving social justice—anything less is hypocrisy.  We must ensure that we foster communities where individuals can live and thrive safely in the truth of their identities.
But, it seems that when fragile masculinity is threatened by trans women, the immediate response is to stigmatize, misidentify, and humiliate trans women.  As advocates, we must call out toxic masculinity and decry violence against trans individuals.
Lil Duval’s comments about killing a trans woman were she to reveal her identity to him are not funny. Comments like his perpetuate the caricature of trans individuals as “deceptive” or “deceitful,” while ignoring the reality that these very threats are what discourage some trans individuals from revealing their identities. In fact, the revelation of one’s identity is a much more complex issue, and one that trans activist Janet Mock skillfully articulates in an interview with some truly funny comedians—Desus and Mero on their show.  In the interview, Ms. Mock describes her own process for determining whether someone is worthy of her revealing her identity to them—underscoring that it is her decision to make.
His comments also expose a misogyny that we in the black community have tolerated, condoned, and normalized for far too long.  What Lil Duval and others who think like him fail to realize is that the very violence that they propagate creates a climate of fear and condones the killing of trans individuals. And the ignorance upon which such comments are predicated does not differ from that used to justify police killings of black people—an ignorance borne of an inability to recognize the humanity in individuals based solely upon their identities.  As Ms. Mock, who appeared on the same show only days earlier notes in her response to Lil Duval’s comments: “On a black program that often advocates for the safety and lives of black people, its hosts laughed as their guest advocated for the murder of black trans women who are black people, too!”
Fatal violence disproportionately impacts trans women of color—particularly because they live at the intersections of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and sexism. According to Injustice at Every Turn, black trans and gender non-conforming people reported experiencing the highest levels of discrimination of all transgender people.  And advocates report that at least 22 trans individuals died in 2016 as a result of violence.  In the first few months of 2017, three trans women of color were killed, including Jaquarrius Holland, Chyna Gibson, and Ciara McElveen and there have been a reported 15 deaths of trans women of color so far this year. Last week, a Mississippi sailor was convicted and sentenced to 49 years in prison for the hate crime of stabbing a transgender woman 119 times. So for those who think that Liv Duval’s comments are no big deal, please understand that hate speech has consequences and condoning the killing of trans individuals poses harm that is all too real.
Kudos to activists like Blossom C. Brown who continue to speak out against transphobic hate speech and other activists, like Raquel Willis who is proclaiming that #TransFolksAreNotaJoke and  J.R. Ford whose black trans daughter deserves to grow up able to love and be loved and free from violence or discrimination.
To educate and engage, check out resources, including those available at Black Trans Advocacy, the Transgender Law Center and the National Center for Transgender Equity.