The Task Force condemns the murder of Lashai Mclean

On July 20, the Task Force joined advocates from around the nation in the Senate for the first hearing in history on the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). But just a few miles from Capitol Hill, a different scene was unfolding. Mere hours earlier, a transgender woman named Lashai Mclean had been shot and killed in Northeast D.C. Lashai’s murder is a tragic reminder that, just outside the walls where our representatives debate and forge wide-reaching social policy, the capital city itself is home to real people who continue to suffer. Amidst the celebrations over Wednesday’s historic step forward for marriage equality, we all must not forget the thousands of LGBT people whose lives remain imperiled.

While the local police decide whether they will treat this murder as a hate crime, it is important to remember that transgender and gender non-conforming people live every day at an exceptionally high risk of violence. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey reports that transgender individuals experience physical and verbal harassment at a rate of up to 55 percent in homeless shelters. It’s the place many transgender people are forced to go because they face nearly twice the rate of the general population for homelessness, many are forced to remain despite the violence. These already unparalleled numbers rise even higher for people of color as well as for those living in poverty, which transgender and gender non-conforming individuals face at a rate of nearly four times the general population. From what we understand, this type of poverty affected Lashai Mclean.

Though the District of Columbia is, in many ways, a model of local civil rights ordinances designed to protect LGBT people, social stigma and hatred remain an ever-present reminder that the law can only change so much. The metropolitan area is no stranger to hate violence against people who transgress gender norms. The horrific stabbing in 2009 of 21-year-old Tyli’a “NaNa Boo” Mack drew regional attention to this crisis. However, as recently as three months ago, a disturbingly violent attack caught on tape in Baltimore against a 22-year-old transgender woman named Chrissy Lee Polis again shook the community. Hate-motivated violence, in all its forms, is a painful reminder that the work to shape a more just and inclusive society is, for many, a matter of life or death.

The LGBT community is unique in many respects, including the characteristic second families many form after coming out for support, resources, and protection. Lashai was a frequent client of Transgender Health Empowerment (T.H.E.), a small organization dedicated to providing meals and health services that are especially critical to low-income transgender people living in the community with the threat of violence a part of their daily lives. Despite the overwhelming rates of violence and discrimination, groups like T.H.E. contribute toward the extraordinary resilience of transgender and gender non-conforming people and their families. In the face of barriers to education, employment, heath, housing and virtually every other resource of well-being, transgender people continue to find ways to live, thrive and contribute to their society. We, as a community, must find ways to honor those who we have lost by moving forward as well and continuing to work toward a world where all people can live in dignity, free from fear and abuse.

During this time of personal mourning and political combativeness, we must resist suggestions that these brutal acts of violence are ever justified or understandable. We must recommit ourselves to educating both lawmakers and the communities they serve about the underlying cultural attitudes of intolerance and inequality from which these crimes erupt.

This week, the Task Force not only condemns this latest act of unspeakable violence against a transgender person, we mourn the loss of  a member of our community. Our hearts go out to Lashai’s friends, family and community during this painful time.