Today, on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, the Department of Justice honors the courage and the memory of victims of anti-transgender discrimination and violence. As Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch observed earlier this week, “During this Transgender Awareness Week… which sadly commemorates lives that have been lost to anti-transgender violence – we recommit ourselves to the principles” that all transgender individuals are deserving of basic respect, equal treatment and the right to “live their lives safely and with support.”
Transgender individuals – people whose gender identity or internal sense of being male or female is different from the gender marker assigned to them at birth – face enormous obstacles. According to a 2011 survey by the National Center for Transgender Equality and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, discrimination against transgender individuals is pervasive. According to that survey, 63 percent of respondents said they had experienced a serious act of discrimination that had a major impact on their quality of life and ability to sustain themselves financially or emotionally. The survey further found that transgender individuals are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty than the general population, and 41 percent reported attempting suicide. They are also too often the target of violent crime, including murder. Importantly, the survey also found that transgender individuals of color fared worse than their white counterparts across the board.
In recent years, the department has worked aggressively to use all the tools at our disposal to address violence and discrimination against transgender individuals. For example, in the Civil Rights Division, under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, we can investigate and prosecute gender-identity motivated violence. We continue to engage in proactive outreach to the transgender community to encourage individuals to seek help from law enforcement when they believe a hate crime has taken place, and have helped train thousands of law enforcement officers on the new law and on the importance of responding to victims of anti-transgender violence. In situations where violence has occurred, the Community Relations Service has worked with the communities affected by that violence to build bridges – by facilitating communication and building trust – with the goal of preventing future violence.
Further, all across the department we have been working, often in close partnership with other federal agencies, to end all forms of discrimination, including harassment, based on gender identity, transgender status and nonconformity with gender stereotypes. While the Shepard-Byrd Act may be the only federal statute that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity, the department has taken the position that federal prohibitions against sex discrimination in employment and education encompass discrimination against transgender individuals. This year alone the Civil Rights Division has filed a number of briefs on behalf of transgender students and individuals who have been subjected to harassment and denied equal treatment and employment opportunity.
Despite the considerable work that has been done, we fully recognize that there is still much more that is still needed to break the cycle of discrimination and violence that affects far too many transgender individuals. That is why in the upcoming weeks I, along with my colleagues from across the department, will be meeting with a number of transgender advocates and civil rights groups to learn more about the challenges faced by this community and to hear suggestions about additional steps the department can take to more effectively address anti-transgender discrimination and violence. I look forward to this and many other conversations about this important issue, and to working towards a country where no one is harassed, discriminated against or suffers harm and violence because of who they are, who they love or what they look like.