Trans activists in the United States and Australia are preparing for Trans Day of Remembrance on Sunday. This annual event commemorates transgender persons who have been murdered because of discrimination, bias, stigma and transphobia.
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQI+ lobby group, says that transgender Americans are facing an “epidemic of violence”. At least 32 transgender and gender non-conforming people have been murdered in the US since the beginning of 2022, it says in a report issued this month.
This is a claim with muscle behind it. In 2019 the American Medical Association agreed that an epidemic of violence existed, based on figures in a previous HRC report. Last year US President Joe Biden lamented “the epidemic of violence”.
“Fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people is the tragic result of a society that devalues our lives, with Black and Brown trans people facing significantly higher rates of harassment, bias and physical violence,” says Jay Brown, of the HRC.
If Covid-19 is the benchmark for epidemics, an epidemic of transgender murders pales. Almost one million Americans have died of Covid. According to the Gun Violence Archive, as of November 16, there had been 17, 777 gun homicides in the US in 2022. There had been 599 deaths in mass shootings and 62 police officers had been shot dead. To say nothing about an epidemic of domestic violence with a couple of thousand American women murdered every year. Or a drug overdose epidemic which claims the lives of 100,000 Americans every year.
So phrases like “epidemic of violence” have to be used with discretion if they are not be regarded as self-serving propaganda.
Although the media normally accepts the “epidemic of trans violence” narrative uncritically, its existence is coming under scrutiny in the media. In Quillette [pay-walled], political scientist Wilfrid Reilly wrote in 2019 that: “The truth is there is no epidemic of transgender murders”. Also in 2019, Chad Felix Greene wrote in The Federalist that “I Crunched The Data. The Violence ‘Epidemic’ Against Transgender People Is A Myth.” In Unherd, earlier this year, a woman with a trans son compared homicides of trans people with homicides of women. She complained that their “murders are quietly forgotten in favour of performative headlines about an ‘epidemic’ that doesn’t exist”.
But apart from trans activists and a handful of sceptics, there has been scant study of the epidemiology of trans violence in academic journals. So the publication of an article entitled “Demographic and Regional Factors Associated With Reporting Homicides of Transgender People in the United States” in the Journal of Surgical Research this month comes as a welcome reality check.
The researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Violent Death Reporting System. They described it as: “a definitive source of information on homicides of transgender people.”
But, as the HRC has repeatedly complained, transgender murder victims were sometimes misclassified in this database. So they adjusted the figures by adding data from law enforcement and medical evaluators. They found that between 2003 and 2018 the NVDRS contained 101 murders of transgender people, but that it had omitted 46 others. So, all told, there were 147 murders of transgender people in those 16 years.
The final result confirmed the idea that most of the victims are black, 54%, compared to 40% of all murder victims.
However, the researchers’ comparison of the characteristics of these 147 deaths with all homicides does contain some surprises.
- Although Southerners are reputed to be transphobic rednecks, only 13.6% of homicides of transgender people were in the South compared to 30% of non-transgender homicides.
- Transgender murder victims were more likely to be victims of intimate partner violence — 14.0% versus 9.3%.
- They were far more likely to be sex workers — 9.5% versus 0.2% –almost 50 times as likely.
- More one in four of the victims had a history of mental health problems — 26.5% versus 11.3%.
- Only 6% of the murders were classified as hate crimes – about nine in 16 years. This was far more as a percentage than amongst non-transgender homicides, but far lower than portrayed in the media.
But the most astonishing finding is this: transgender homicides are far less common than homicides in the population as a whole. The article states: “Further, although transgender individuals constitute approximately 0.6% of the population, transgender victims make up a significantly smaller portion of the NVDRS (0.1%).”
With such small numbers extracted from unreliable figures it is difficult to reach watertight conclusions. The researchers acknowledge that there are “important inconsistencies … in the assessment and reporting of transgender status in the NVDRS” and they declare that more accurate reporting is “imperative”.
But if the figures are so wobbly, how can the HRC and trans activists be justified in stoking public outrage over an “epidemic”? Are they just making it up as they go along?
In fact, in the small print of its report, the HRC is far more modest about its claims. “This analysis is not exhaustive nor definitive, but simply provides a snapshot into the landscape of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people”.
A sign that something is seriously amiss is a gigantic discrepancy between the FBI’s transgender hate crime data and the HRC’s tally of transgender deaths. “Between 2013 and 2020, the FBI has recorded only 11 anti-transgender murders/negligent homicides—far fewer than the 302 deaths recorded by HRC.”
Even the HRC describes this gap as “alarming”. “It is unclear why we are unable to reconcile these numbers, though it is likely due to either misgendering/deadnaming, or lack of media coverage.”
Crime statistics are notoriously rubbery; statistics about transgender crimes even more so. Should trans-on-trans murders be classified as hate crimes? Drug-related murders? Intimate partner murders? Murders of trans prostitutes?
All trans murders are tragedies. All of the victims are someone’s son or daughter. They all had friends who loved them. They all had inalienable rights and deserved to be treated with respect. As President Biden said quite eloquently: “Each of these lives was precious. Each of them deserved freedom, justice, and joy.”
But these deaths should not be exploited by activists desperate for heroic martyrs to justify an expansion of trans rights and to romanticise the trans lifestyle. The number of transgender Americans who have been killed out of transphobia is minuscule. Back in 2020 MercatorNet described the epidemic of trans homicides as “clever fake news from the Ministry of LGBTQ+ Truth”. Nothing has changed since then.