The Roots of Anti-Trans ViolenceLouisiana
Over the last four years, according to Transgender Law Center’s research, 11 trans people were murdered in Louisiana. All of them were Black. All of them were trans women. All were under 33 years old. That includes one woman who was just killed in January in Baton Rouge. We can’t talk about violence without talking about this reality. But, of course, there’s more to the story.
Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the nation, and if it were its own country, would have the highest in the world. Of the 11 mentioned above, most remain unsolved. In some of the cases, alleged perpetrators were arrested and/or charged – but is that justice? It won’t bring our sisters back and will likely have no effect on the issue writ large. We know that much of the interpersonal violence our community faces is at the hands of intimate partners. We also know that Louisiana’s prisons and jails are disproportionately filled with Black people.
Nine of the eleven known victims were between ages 18-30. Jaquarris Holland and Vontasha Bell were the youngest victims, both 18 years old.
It was not long ago that police in Louisiana could stop trans women on the street and threaten to bring them to jail in exchange for oral sex. Even today, law enforcement continues to wield its power to inject fear into the Louisiana trans community, using discriminatory laws as their accomplice. Perhaps most notorious is the Crime Against Nature Statute (CANS), which has historically handed out harsh criminal penalties for individuals who offer or agree to have “non-procreative” sex. Consistent with law enforcement’s pattern of discriminatory enforcement, CANS is disproportionately weaponized against trans women, sex workers, people of color, and LGBQ+ individuals while many cisgender women receive misdemeanors for the same actions.
Prior to 2012, those convicted of a Crime Against Nature were required to pay hefty monthly fines, and register to carry a state ID bearing the words “sex offender” in bold red lettering. Failure to pay fees would result in jail time, a policy which disproportionately reintroduced Black trans women to unsafe conditions in state prisons. Although CANS’ registration requirement was eventually deemed unconstitutional, this ruling did not automatically expunge charges received prior to 2012.
Trans women in Louisiana continue to push back against the narrative that they are inherently threatening or predatory, while fighting to survive by any means necessary. With a leadership that has never been representative of the community, Louisiana’s state government consistently neglects to address the rampant inequities and injustices impacting the state’s trans population, and Black trans women in particular.
It is especially striking that Black trans women constitute 100% of the known victims of fatal transphobic violence in Louisiana over the past four years. Unsurprisingly, persons of interest have been identified in fewer than half of these cases. This illustrates a violent reality of Black trans feminine existence: that law enforcement allocates drastically greater effort and resources to criminalize their lives than to pursue justice for their deaths. This is also true of non-fatal violence against the community, with numerous accounts of police slamming Black trans sex workers to the ground while exercising leniency and sometimes camaraderie with their alleged assailants.
With very few legal protections in place to protect trans and non-binary Louisianans, local advocates are building alternative pathways to safety. Emerging groups are using mutual aid as a means to distribute resources to those in need. Groups and initiatives like Transcending Women, House of Tulip, Breakout, and the Real Name Change Campaign are working to mitigate legal, financial, and other inequities that perpetuate cycles of harm and violence against trans people.
Progress in Louisiana has been slow and hard-won, and organizers will need sustained support in order to continue their life-saving work. See below for links to donate.