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In-depth: why many local transgender people feel unsafe and how a piece of legislation in Tallahassee could help protect them

2020 was the deadliest year for the transgender community
Trans people in florida
Posted at 6:57 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 18:58:55-04

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Many transgender people in the Bay Area say they are afraid for their lives. That’s because we’re seeing an increase in hate crimes against that community.

ABC Action News in-depth reporter Anthony Hill spoke with transgender people in the Bay Area about their concerns and is digging deeper to find out what’s being done to protect them.

Kiala Emmons is a transgender woman living in the Bay Area and like many gender non-conforming people, she has to fight every day just to be understood. “People don’t really have the same regard that you may have for yourself. So, it can be very scary as to how you are received or if you’re going to be received well,” said Kiala.

Her community is not just fighting to change the hearts and minds of people, they’re also fighting for their own live. “I’m sure if you Google or just pull up anything about transphobic deaths, you can see where people are assaulted for no reason. It can snowball very fast when you’re at gas stations or public places,” said Kiala.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2020 was the deadliest year for the trans community since the group began collecting data in 2013. Last year, 45 trans people were violently killed. Many of them, right here in Florida and this year,11 trans people have already been killed. African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately targeted.

Kiala said, “so, being trans and being Black, there’s a lot of things that go through my mind when going to certain places, but just knowing that at any given moment, if someone is not accepting of who you are as person, you can be targeted and assaulted.”

According to the Movement Advancement Project, Florida’s hate crime law requires law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute crimes committed due to the sexual orientation of the victim, but not gender identity.

So, what’s being done to protect a community that’s being targeted and attacked? One local trans advocate says there’s already legislation in Tallahassee and if passed would include gender identity in the state’s hate crime law.

“This is an existing hate crimes law and all we’re doing is adding a few words,” said Nathan Bruemmer, an attorney with Equality Florida, the state’s largest civil rights organization. They are fighting for equality based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Nathan says SB 194 would make attacking a transgender person because of their gender identity a hate crime.

“It validates the existence of trans folks. We know that targeting is happening. We know anecdotally it’s happening. There’s a lack of trust often between law enforcement agencies and the transgender community. And saying, first of all, by statute, we see you. We know you’re targeted and we include you,” said Bruemmer.

Bruemmer says, it’s incredibly difficult to prove hate crimes, but with no legal protections for trans people in Florida, many biased crimes against them go underreported. “And then as we see those crimes reported, we can address them and we can have the justice system doing what it should be doing, which is protecting all Americans,” said Bruemmer.

For Kiala, finding out that another transgender person has been murdered hits too close to home for her. “I think when you read it, you’re reading it from a list of names, but when I read it, I’m seeing and remembering people that I know personally,” said Kiala.

Sheani Cutliff hopes to see the day when being herself won’t make her a target. “We have to be able to protect anybody and everybody. No matter how they choose to identify or express themselves,” said Sheanni.

If SB 194 passes, Florida will join 26 other states that protect transgender people under local hate crime laws. However, many transgender people say a cultural change in how we view people who are different from us also has to happen and that may be more difficult than amending a law.