July 1, 2020 at 1:55 pm EDT | by Philip Van Slooten
Rayceen Pendarvis moderates forum on violence against Black trans women
Rayceen Pendarvis, gay news, Washington Blade
Rayceen Pendarvis (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Local host and community advocate Rayceen Pendarvis on Tuesday moderated a Zoom forum that addressed violence against Black transgender women.

Panelists included Jazmin Sutherlin from the D.C. Center, Charmaine Eccles from the Center for Black Equity, Kisha Allure of Casa Ruby, Dr. Kamilah Woodson of Casa Ruby and Howard University, Anita LaRue and LaToya Davenport with the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia and Sgt. Nicole Brown of the Metropolitan Police Department LGBT Liaison Unit.

LaRue stated one of the discussion’s goals was to celebrate Pride month, but also “we were interested in partnering to do something for the trans community.”

During the discussion, Black trans women such as Monroe Alise spoke of violent attacks which often occurred in broad daylight in D.C. and of the emotional resilience needed to survive them.

“Violence isn’t always physical,” Alise said after describing an attack that occurred in 2017. “It’s in the misgendering, it’s in the discrimination, it’s in the daily activities that we should experience as being normal. We have to stick together. We have to educate. We have to inform. My life as a Black trans woman should not have to be traumatic.”

Eccles also described a harrowing attack during which she wrestled with an assailant’s shotgun and had to fight for her life. During another attack she had to walk home after being “jumped by four guys.”

“I was so afraid and so ashamed … I lived three blocks away,” she said. “But it took me three hours to get home.”

Sutherlin stated it was not the first time she heard such emotional stories of violence and survival. She also included survivors of intimate partner violence, saying “there are all kinds of violence and abuse.”

“At times I started to see violence and disrespect show up in my relationship,” Sutherlin told the virtual attendees. “I now understand how much violence can affect your judgement and lead to so many different responses.”

Woodson explained how being a Black trans woman can involve “multiple identities that lend themselves to victimization.” She stated a history of victimization and trauma — including vicarious trauma involving reliving experiences each time another Black trans woman such as Zoe Spears is murdered -— can impact self-esteem.

“As a cis straight Black woman I recognize my privilege,” Woodson said. “I can use my platform to bring more attention. We’re not protecting and valuing our own and I am committed to doing so.”

Allure, who is the director of victims services at Casa Ruby, spoke of the resources and services they provide while Brown, LaRue and Davenport each spoke on local crime data, the hate-bias task force and making victim and community impact statements.

Community members and activists Shereese and Consuella spoke to the need for education, skills training and jobs access for trans women of color, even following the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in June ruling LGBTQ employees are protected under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

“We have to educate ourselves,” Shereese said regarding grant writing skills. “So we can educate our youth so they don’t follow the same footsteps we do.”

“It is important to educate our community on what it is to be trans individuals, particularly with the LGBTQ Supreme Court justices’ ruling,” Consuella said, speaking to the need to educate the larger LGBTQ community as well. “People have this perception of trans women, but they don’t know what black trans women go through. The community needs to be aware of the breadth of violence and discrimination that we face on a day-to-day basis.”

The Williams Institute stated in their April report on the vulnerabilities faced by trans adults during the coronavirus crisis that more than 600,000 trans adults lived below 200 percent of the poverty line prior to the pandemic. It also stated the unemployment rate among trans people averaged 12.8 percent, compared to around 4.9 percent for the entire population.

Activist and attendee Danielle Dufoe said elected officials also have a responsibility regarding the harm the current administration’s policies have done to the transgender community.

“Hopefully, Joe Biden will overturn them [if elected],” Dufoe said. “But we don’t want to keep having to go through this.”

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