During their freshman year of high school, Amber Va unknowingly embarked on a new life journey.
When they learned about Jazz Jennings and Caitlyn Jenner on the news, they realized they did not identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.
Va, a second-year women and gender sexuality studies major at Long Beach State, was assigned male at birth and now identifies as a nonbinary trans femme – someone who identifies with no gender, but expresses themselves as feminine as possible.
In 2019, with the help of mentors from the Gay Straight Alliance Network, Va was able to legally change their name and begin hormone treatment.
While the LGBTQ community is becoming more accepted, there is still a high rate of hate crimes against trans and nonbinary individuals. They are more likely to experience violence than their cisgender counterparts.
In 2020, there have been 31 transgender or gender nonconforming individuals that have been fatally shot or killed in a violent manner.
Toxic masculinity is an issue that trans and gender nonconforming individuals face that can result in harm towards them, according to a blog post by the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
Recently, a video was posted on Youtube about an attack on three trans women in Hollywood.
“When I read about this, it puts me in panic mode,” Va said. “My heart aches that someone would do this to our community. To me, it shows that there will be some people who won’t accept change in our society.”
According to the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, more than 130 transgender and gender-expansive individuals have been killed in the United States since 2013, when these types of cases began to be recorded.
“From looking at these statistics, I live in fear on a daily basis, but I don’t let it get to me,” Va said. “Having support from the community, my family, my friends and my partner help me get through the day.”
According to Mallery Robinson, ignorance and misinformation about the trans and nonbinary community is one of the leading causes of violent actions made against them. Oftentimes, individuals are met with mockery or made fun of due to their gender identity.
Robinson has been an engagement specialist and service navigator for the transgender health program at the Long Beach LGBTQ Center for a year and a half. She encourages individuals that identify with the trans and nonbinary community to contact her through the Trans Health Department of the Long Beach LGBTQ Center for assistance.
“So, you have all this stuff that’s going out into the world that scares people,” Robinson said. “Unfortunately, all that fear and phobia lead to people wanting to not feel afraid, then want to go and hurt that community. My community.”
A research study done by Transrespect Versus Transphobia Worldwide between 2008 and 2016 reported that there were 2,343 murders of trans and gender-diverse individuals worldwide. Of those individuals, 46% were between the ages of 20 and 29.
Black and Latina trans women who are in the sex worker industry are more vulnerable to violence because of laws and policies that criminalize sex work. According to the World Health Organization, “sex workers are often reluctant to report violent incidents to the police for fear of police retribution or of being prosecuted for engaging in sex work.”
“A lot of times bystanders will often overlook what is happening,” Robinson said. “Please, don’t just pull out your camera and start filming. Actually call the authorities. Be willing to assist if you can, even if that’s pushing that person off.”
According to Robinson, some ways that transwomen of color can protect themselves are by trusting their guts, taking defense classes and being aware of their surroundings.
“Use those spidey-senses,” Robinson said. “If it doesn’t feel right, it’s definitely not.”
Cereza Alcántara, a sex worker and self-identified Latinx trans woman, said she takes safety precautions when she goes out.
“I always carry a pocket knife with me and share my location with at least two people if I’m going out alone,” Alcántara said. “In my experience, I do think there are a lot more risks involved.”
Alcántara said online services are safer than escorting because she has more control over what gets published online. She said that while the block button is easily available, some people still find her other profiles or make spam accounts to contact her and see her content.
She said she learned from other sex workers that a safer process for escorting involves requiring payment upfront, meeting at a public location then going where the services will take place and sharing her location.
“I would say the violence I have faced is more so implicit,” Alcántara said. “Being in this line of work we do get fetishized and slurs are bound to come up. Sometimes I do not have the energy to educate grown men on how to be a decent person to trans folks, so I block.”
Alcántara said she sometimes gets red flags from clients.
“Most recently, I had a client tell me that he wants to get me drunk so he could have his way with me,” Alcántara said. “Needless to say, I blocked and moved on.”
Since they started working at the Long Beach LGBTQ Center two years ago, Jaye Prado, lead legal services advocate, noticed that one of the most requested services is the name and gender change petition.
“It is a big part of my work,” Prado said. “I realized that this is a huge thing for transgender people, specifically transwomen, to get identity documents to match their gender identity. It’s such a huge deal when being in public spaces.”
Name and gender changes give more confidence to transgender people to live more authentically and can help in reducing some of the discrimination they face.
“We know that the more intersections of oppressed identities that someone holds, the more likely they are to experience some form of violence,” Prado said. “LGBTQ people are disproportionately impacted by violence, specifically transgender communities.”
According to the 2015 National Transgender Survey Report, 54% of transgender people experienced some form of domestic violence, and nearly one in 10 were physically attacked because of their gender identity.
In partnership with District 2, the Long Beach LGBTQ Center will have a Black Lives Matter memorial to remember their fallen members. Their goal is for their trans and nonbinary members to feel safe and secure in the environment.
“We need to remember those victims—memorialize them, remember that they existed,” Robinson said.