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Chelsea Manning, Islan Nettles and the Struggle for Trans Survival

Chase Strangio,
Deputy Director for Transgender Justice, ACLU LGBTQ & HIV Project
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August 26, 2013

While Chelsea Manning’s announcement of her gender identity confounded the press, the transgender community in New York was reeling over the loss of yet another young transgender woman of color to violence. It is impossible to separate the bias and confusion about transgender individuals from the long history of violence against transgender communities. With questions circulating all week about who is deserving of medically necessary care and being talked about with dignity, the story of Islan Nettles reminds us that these are not insignificant questions, but life and death questions for many transgender people.

Islan, 21, was out with her friends on Friday, August 16 in Harlem. According to reports by witnesses, when a group of people realized that Islan and her friends were transgender women, they began to attack them. Islan was brutally beaten and on Friday, August 23, she was taken off of life support. News of Islan’s death comes just one month after reports of the murder of Diamond Williams, another transgender woman of color, in Philadelphia.

In 2012, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported that 73.1 percent of all anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2012 were people of color and 53.8 percent of the anti-LGBTQ homicide victims in 2012 were transgender women.

Like Islan, Cece McDonald, a young black transwoman in Minneapolis, was harassed one night in 2011 while walking with friends. Dean Schmidt, a white man in his 40’s, shouted racist and transphobic slurs at Cece and a fight ensued. In the course of the struggle, Schmidt was killed and Cece was injured. After being treated at a local hospital, Cece was the only person arrested and was ultimately charged with second-degree murder. Cece accepted a plea for the lesser manslaughter charge and is currently serving her sentence at a men’s prison in Minnesota. There was “no stand your ground” protecting Cece, but if she hadn’t defended herself, there is a good chance she would have been killed, like Islan, and so many other trans men and women.

When we talk about Chelsea, we must also remember Islan, Diamond and Cece and so many transgender women who have fought for and too often lost their lives just for being themselves.

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