Recently, I volunteered to help with the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Durango. (Shameless plug: the event will be from 5-7 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Durango.)
As I’ve sorted through studies and statistics on violence and discrimination against transgender individuals, I have grown increasingly intrigued and alarmed at the similarities with the discrimination faced by individuals with disabilities.
The amount of violence experienced by people with disabilities is staggering. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, people with disabilities are three times more likely to experience violence than the general population. They are also three times as likely to be the victims of rape, sexual assault, aggravated assault and robbery. Transgender people have been reported to have similar rates (61 percent for both populations) of assaults.
Other forms of discrimination are equally distressing and likely add to the risk of abuse. Both populations have high rates of poverty and unemployment and face frequent discrimination in or inadequate health care. Both populations are bullied on a regular basis.
The reasons for the violence and discrimination for transgender people and people with disabilities boils down to dangerous cultural norms and social conventions. All of the basic institutions in American life – health care systems, government agencies, schools and universities, law enforcement, and even religious groups – have established a norm to ridicule, bully, disrespect and otherwise discriminate against transgender people.
The social conventions for people with disabilities, and particularly people with intellectual disabilities, is different but equally damaging. Our culture infantilizes and dismisses most people with intellectual disabilities, segregating them into specialized settings and leaving them to paid caregivers and social service systems to support. Unfortunately, it is these very social service systems that are often the perpetrators of discrimination and violence.
Because they are discredited and devalued, victims of abuse from both populations are often unable to find justice and can be further victimized by the very institutions that should help to protect them.
I am not suggesting that there is some grand, overarching correlation between transgender people and individuals with disabilities. The similarity I see rests fully in the hands of society as a whole and our communities.
We cannot hold ourselves blameless simply because we are not directly responsible for the violence. The cultural norms that we have supported – segregation, disrespect, dismissiveness – have directly led to the outcomes we are seeing. Because the outcomes are poverty, homelessness, illness and death, we cannot stand aside and wait for someone else to fix the problem. We are that someone else.
The good news is that we do have the power to make a change. We can learn about the issues around diversity and privilege, talk with each other about how to combat stereotypes and stigma and act with the intention of being inclusive to all members of our communities. Most importantly, we can stand together and stand strong against hate crime and violence of all kinds.
Tara Kiene is president/CEO of Community Connections Inc.