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Tipping Point or State of Emergency? Real Talk About Transgender Women of Color


Zella Ziona, transgender woman murdered in Gaithersburg, MD, October 15, 2015.

By Sand C. Chang, PhD (Gender Specialist, Multi-Specialty Transitions Department, Kaiser Permanente) and Kimber Shelton, PhD (KLS Counseling & Consulting Services, Dallas, TX)

In June 2014, TIME magazine featured Laverne Cox on the cover, the title reading “The Transgender Tipping Point.” The message to the world was, “We’ve arrived.” While the scales have tipped for some transgender and gender nonconforming (TGNC) individuals, notably those with access to wealth or those that fit a mainstream beauty ideal, the rest are left behind. Members of TGNC communities of color are having a different discussion. In panels and forums, on social media, in conversation, they are saying, “The transgender tipping point is crushing us.”

The notion that we as a society have arrived at a time and place in which TGNC people have gained equality is misleading. It creates an illusion of safety, reinforcing a binary gender system and excluding TGNC people at the margins—those most deeply affected by the intersections of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and poverty. The “transgender community” is not one community but many communities. Recent advancements in legislation and health care have greatly benefited some, but the progress is not equally distributed, and the increased visibility does not equal acceptance, which is clear when we consider the realities of many Black and Latina TGNC women’s lives.

Barely one year after being featured in TIME, Laverne Cox herself declared a “state of emergency” for TGNC people. And this is why:

  1. So far in 2015, NCAVP has responded to 22 reported homicides of transgender or gender nonconforming The vast majority were transgender women of color.

  2. Of the transgender women murdered so far in 2015, 86% were Black or Latina.

  3. Anti-TGNC discrimination has serious mental health consequences: In one large national community survey, 41% of transgender people reported having attempted suicide.

  4. Many Latina/o TGNC individuals live in extreme poverty: In one study, 28% reported earning less than $10,000 a year; 43% of noncitizen Latina/o TGNC individuals reported earning less than$10,000 annually.

Transgender women of color advocate for more care and bring attention to the disproportionate rates of physical violence, sexual assault, and poverty that negatively affect their communities. By living out loud, transgender women of color also demonstrate the resilience and strength within their communities. Organizations leading awareness and advocacy efforts, such as the #blacktranswomenlivesmatter campaign, include the TransWomen of Color Collective, The National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), Racial and Economic Justice Initiative, Transgender Law Center (TLC), TAJA’s Coalition, and Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC).

Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th honors the lives of transgender people who were killed in the past year, including the Black and Latina victims of hate crimes. However, it is not enough to remember and honor the transgender women whose lives were lost in 2015. Psychologists can mark November 20th as the day that they joined or advanced efforts to support transgender women of color, uniting with transgender women of color to create an uplifting tipping point that is inclusive of their intersecting identities.  Here are some things psychologists can do:

  1. Engage in culturally competent practice, including use of the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People.

  2. Use voice and media presence to call attention to hate crimes, suicide rates, violence and abuse, and housing and economic disparities disproportionately impacting transgender women of color.

  3. Advance research efforts that are inclusive of the gender, racial, and economic realities of transgender women of color.

  4. Use your political power to promote federal and state protection for the civil liberties of TGNC individuals.

  5. Celebrate and promote the identities, lives, and resilience of TGNC women of color.

  6. Consider making a donation to an organization dedicated to increasing safety and equal rights for transgender women of color.

  7. Include curriculum in training and supervision about transgender people and their lives.

And we can all #sayhername. These are the names of the transgender and gender nonconforming people whose lives have been lost to violence so far in 2015:

  1. Papi Edwards

  2. Lamia Beard

  3. Ty Underwood

  4. Yazmin Vash Payne

  5. Taja Gabrielle de Jesus

  6. Penny Proud

  7. Kristina Gomez Reinwald

  8. London Chanel

  9. Mercedes Williamson

  10. India Clarke

  11. K.C. Haggard

  12. Amber Monroe

  13. Ms. Shade Schuler

  14. Ashton O’Hara

  15. Kandis Capri

  16. Elisha Walker

  17. Tamara Dominguez

  18. Jasmine Collins

  19. Keyshia Blige

  20. Jessie Hernandez

  21. Kiesha Jenkins

  22. Zella Ziona


Dr. Sand Chang is a Chinese American, nonbinary/genderqueer licensed psychologist. Sand is currently a Gender Specialist at the Multi-Specialty Transitions Department at Kaiser Permanente in Oakland and maintains a private practice specializing in trauma and EMDR, addictions, relationships, and healing work with marginalized communities, particularly people affected by the intersections of racism, homophobia, and transphobia. Sand is the current Chair of the APA Committee on Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity and recently completed an appointment on the American Psychological Association’s Task Force on Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Transgender and Gender Nonconforming People.

Dr. Kimber Shelton is a licensed psychologist and owner of KLS Counseling & Consulting Services in Dallas, TX. She earned her PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Georgia (UGA) and MS in Mental Health Counseling from Niagara University. She is a member of the American Psychological Association Committee of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity, co-chair of the Texas Psychological Association Diversity Division, and recipient of the UGA College of Education Professional Achievement Award.

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