On November 18, the Human Rights Campaign reported the 47th trans or gender nonconforming person violently killed in 2021. The announcement came just days before the annual Trans Day of Remembrance, which honors the lives of those who were killed the past year.

The HRC recently updated the numbers in its annual report to 50 trans or gender nonconforming people killed this year.

“It’s heart wrenching,” said Matisse DuPont, a Boston artist, educator and gender consultant. “At this point, it’s like every year is a record year.”

DuPont said they also felt a sadness that the record-breaking year “isn’t surprising.”

The amount of fatal violence against trans and gender nonconforming people in the U.S. has significantly increased since 2013, according to data collected by the Human Rights Campaign.

While various organizations and communities commit resources to documenting such cases, violence against trans people is underreported.

In a 2019 interview with PBS NewsHour, the executive director of the Anti-Violence Project Beverly Tillery said despite tracking the amount of homicides of trans women for the past 20 years, the organization knows many homicides “don’t ever get reported for a number of reasons.” 

In some cases, said Tillery, trans and gender nonconforming people are misgendered by the police or experience violence directly from law enforcement. As a result, this prevents trans folks from reporting in the first place.

So what makes this year different? 

DuPont said it could be the heightened visibility of both the LGBTQIA+ community and the Black community through the “gender revolution plus the Black Lives Matter uprising.”

“It’s just that extra visibility,” said DuPont. “The double edged sword of visibility is … people are now more aware, they know how to look for what they don’t want to exist anymore.”

This “double edged sword” is partly what inspired 19-year old Esmée Silverman to create Queer Youth Assemble in August.

Silverman said she created the non-profit because she noticed queer youth in need of programming, support systems and events. “And eventually,” said Silverman, “what happened is I said to myself, ‘not every single queer youth cares about school.’ And that really got me thinking, why not take the school aspect and expand just everything?”

In addition to providing queer youth with a community outside of the school setting, QYA also encourages kids to explore their creativity through events and its monthly magazine.

Silverman said especially it’s important that queer youth have a safe space and community to explore their interests instead of solely focusing on the “grueling and tiring task” of activism.

“We want people to have fun, have support systems in place and be able to nurture their amazing personalities,” said Silverman, “because spoiler alert: not every single queer youth have wants to be an activist, some of them want to be doctors, some of them want to be flight attendants, some of them want to be hospitality readers.”

The amount of anti-trans violence, however, can make envisioning the future daunting for many queer youth.

As the number of homicides continues to increase each year, many activists and experts argue people should avoid comparing the current year to the previous year because it detracts from the larger issue. 

“This is a huge crisis,” said Tillery, “and we have to take action now. …  And we should have taken action last year and the year before, but it’s not too late now.”

“It’s always another phenomenal opportunity to turn around and focus on who is here before they’re just like a statistic,” said DuPont. “47 overall, is terrible. But in the grand scheme, volatile people … I’m also kind of grateful it’s only 47.”

Not everyone views the statistics with the same kind of optimism.

Ray Winig, 15, a volunteer member for QYA, said the number of fatal anti-trans violence this year was painful for them. “These are my family and these are my ancestors, and they’re gone. And I didn’t know them,” said Winig. “And that’s not fair because I could have.”

“You can feel disconnected when you see these pictures and names and numbers, because they often become statistics and they aren’t talked about in the media,” said Bryn Connelly, 16, another volunteer member.

This is exactly why QYA was created, Silverman said.

“We want to make sure that we’re doing the work that other people don’t necessarily want to do,” said Silverman, “we want to essentially make the world better for them so they don’t have to be in our position one day. We want to bring them up in this world that is already safe and already made for them so they can go and achieve their fullest potential and do whatever they want to do.”

Much of the work needs to happen within the education system, said members of the QYA.

In 2019, 84% of trans students felt unsafe at school and 86% of LGBTQ+ students were harassed or assaulted at school, according to a national survey by GLSEN.

The report also stated that GSAs are one of the systems that make LGBTQ+ students feel more safe and supported.

“I think a lot of trans students go to school to learn about themselves and to be included,” said Connelly, “but trans people are often left to teach teachers how to interact with them and how to treat them. I think it’s also education on the educators’ part.”

While more people are “queer and trans friendly,” in 2021, DuPont said it’s important to continue advocating for the LGBTQIA+ community across the nation. “What other material conditions can we improve? How do we help rural people in rural areas? How do we get more representation? How do we teach people about intersectionality?”

For many queer people, activism is a core part of their identity because of their lived experiences. While Silverman plans to change that through QYA by providing queer youth with a safe space to discover themselves, some young people like Winig view activism less as work and more as “community responsibility.”

“This is for my family and this is for my community,” said Winig. “And these are the things that need to be done and I have the capacity to do it. And so I’m going to do it.”

Advice to queer youth

Matisse DuPont: “Keep your safety in mind. It’s, if it’s not safe where you are, you don’t perceive it as safe. It’s okay to you know, pause or focus your energy on getting thing out, like, that’s totally okay. It’s okay. If you need to wait a moment, it’s all you have your whole lifetime to figure this out, right? Also, finding safe spaces to just play where you currently are, is really crucial finding even that just means like a safe friend. … And also, don’t let the fear stop in your tracks. It’s really easy to just be like, ‘I don’t know, the world’s scary, I’ll never do anything,’ just do it. I bet it’s gonna be okay. And if it’s not, you’ll get through it, you’ll find a way.”

Esmée Silverman: “There’s always a community close by, we stick together, we take care of each other. And we’re always going to be there for you if you need anything, whether it be somebody to try out your new name with somebody to experiment with a different set of pronouns, somebody to help you find a way to discreetly ship a binder to your house. We are in any way shape or form here for you and we want you to know that.”

Ray Winig: “It can take a really long time to restructure how you have been conditioned to view yourself and to view, gender and to view binaries and rigidity, and sexuality and all of these things. … And it can take a long time to unlearn and to relearn yourself. And they can take an even longer time to be working up to having self esteem at the same time. So I think always starting at that small place and finding something that is safe, or something that you can do one thing you can change.”

Bryn Connelly: “That’s why I think organizations like Queer Youth Assemble and GSAs are so great, because it’s so easy to feel alone as an LGBT kid. And even just one conversation with someone that relates to it can change your whole life. And even if you’re like, wherever you are, in your journey, is having someone who you know who’s been on that timeline with you.”

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