This year, Celine Walker, Antash’a English, Cathalina Christina James, Sasha Garden and London Moore were killed in Florida. Each was a transgender woman of color.
I am deeply concerned that an epidemic of anti-transgender violent crime is going unaddressed. 1.4 million Americans are at risk, and according to a new report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, 2017 was the deadliest year on record for the transgender community. And so far in 2018, 22 transgender people have been killed.
Good government, like good police work, puts the evidence first. As Orlando’s first female chief of police, I used crime statistics to create an aggressive campaign to reduce violent crime by 40 percent.
But instead of putting the evidence first and coming up with a solution, the Trump-Pence administration is instead planning to erase key non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Political attacks and hate crimes against LGBTQ people are increasing right along with the divisive and hateful rhetoric.
No place feels this more deeply than Orlando, where in 2016, 49 people were killed at the Pulse Nightclub. The shooting was the deadliest attack against the LGBTQ community in modern American history and remains one of the worst our country has ever experienced. The pain of that night leads me back to the same question: what must we all do to make our communities safe for all people?
First, law enforcement must have a positive relationship with every member of our community. Communities are made safer when the public trusts and respects the sacrifices made by the brave men and women in uniform. Likewise, law enforcement benefits immensely from understanding and respecting every person they serve.
Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, take some time to learn about the issues or have a heart-to-heart conversation with your neighbors, friends and family. We must all do our part to make our homes, schools and communities safer and more inclusive for everyone.
Orlando has been a leader in creating these community bonds. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and the Orlando City Commission created a domestic partner registry in 2012, and the Orlando Police Department, like some other departments around the country, has an LGBT liaison officer who specifically works to foster cooperation. Other departments should follow this example.
Programs like Orlando’s “Safe Place” initiative help form a community network of trust and safety. The concept is simple: a network of businesses where LGBTQ victims of harassment can call the police and wait in safety. In the wake of the shooting at Pulse, the program has been a massive success, with participation by hundreds of local businesses. This kind of community solidarity saves lives and creates understanding.
Law enforcement departments should also expand their internal training, education, and accountability to ensure that all people they serve are treated with dignity and respect. Straightforward guidelines and best practices will ensure that all members of our communities receive the highest standards of service and protection. I saw it time and again as a law enforcement officer: cooperation and respect prevent crimes.
On the federal level, we need swift action from Congress. Transgender Americans in some parts of the country face legal discrimination by employers, limited access to health care, and barriers to important services. The Equality Act [hrc.org], which I have co-sponsored, would create simple and clear non-discrimination laws for LGBTQ Americans. This is a no-brainer, as are a half-dozen other non-discrimination proposals.
Finally, each of us can make the struggle for a fair, compassionate, accepting society a personal priority. As a public servant — from social worker, to police chief, to congresswoman — I’ve worked hard to create a better world where all people, no matter their background or situation, can feel safe and accepted. But you don’t need to be a member of Congress to promote love and tolerance.
Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, take some time to learn about the issues or have a heart-to-heart conversation with your neighbors, friends and family. We must all do our part to make our homes, schools and communities safer and more inclusive for everyone. I’ll be using my platform as a congresswoman to ensure that all Americans are treated with fairness and dignity. What will you do?
Demings represents the 10th District of Florida and is former chief of the Orlando Police Department.