"We Deserve to be Protected:" NCTE's Olivia Hunt Testifies on Anti-Trans Violence at the Capitol
Image, left to right: Brandon Wolf of Equality Florida, Kelley Robinson of HRC, Ilan Meyer of the Williams Institute, and Olivia Hunt of NCTE.
On Wednesday, NCTE Policy Director Olivia Hunt spoke at the House Oversight Committee’s hearing on anti-LGBTQ violence. Olivia described how anti-trans rhetoric and policies coming out of statehouses across the nation fuel the increasing wave of anti-trans violence, and emphasized that trans people, and especially trans youth, deserve to be able to live their lives in safety and security. We were honored to speak alongside survivors of the violent attacks at Club Q, as well as the new President of HRC Kelley Robinson, Williams Institute scholar Ilan Meyer, and Brandon Wolf, Press Secretary of Equality Florida and survivor of the 2016 attack on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.
During the hearing, we were disappointed to see most of the Republican members of the Committee ignore the focus on LGBTQ+ lives that were lost – and are in danger every day – in favor of platitudes about the supposed need for more law enforcement. In fact, police often perpetuate serious violence towards transgender people. During the Club Q shooting, two club patrons – one of whom is a trans woman – subdued the shooter themselves and stopped the violence. Transgender people face staggering levels of violence, homelessness, and poverty in the United States, with transgender people of color experiencing the greatest disparities. Thus, it is not surprising that, even though transgender people are more likely to be victims of violent crime than non-transgender people, over half (57%) of all US Trans Survey respondents feel uncomfortable calling the police for help when they need it.
Our communities deserve better.
Like all the acts of fatal violence targeting our community, the shooting at Club Q didn’t happen in a vacuum. This violence was catalyzed by a cultural climate filled with:
- anti-LGBTQ legislation,
- think pieces debating the validity of our humanity under the guise of “just asking questions,”
- politicians and public figures encouraging their bases to target and threaten LGBTQ-friendly events and organizations,
- and fearmongering in the press and on social media.
Most of these political attacks, and the misinformation that fuels them, are targeted at trans people. And far too often, at trans youth.
Watch Olivia’s full remarks and read the transcript below:
Thank you, Madam Chair, members of the committee; thank you very much for convening this hearing, and shining a light on the causes of the increasing violence facing the LGBTQ community. Working at the National Center for Transgender Equality has been a dream job for me since before I started law school, and there's been no greater honor in my career than being invited here today to speak with the committee on behalf of my community.
This has been a dream job for me, but also a job that I hope will one day no longer be necessary. The past year's events make it clear though, that day is still a long way off. A month ago, my colleagues and I prepared a Remembrance Report honoring the 47 known transgender Americans whose lives have been lost to violence since November of 2021. We released it on November 18th. Before dawn on Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20th, the shooting at Club Q meant it was already out of date. Like all the acts of fatal violence targeting our community, the shooting at Club Q didn't happen in a vacuum. This summer, Representative Comer tweeted that we need to examine the root causes of increased violence in America. Today, we're doing just that.
This violence was catalyzed by a cultural climate filled with anti-LGBTQ legislation, think pieces debating the validity of our humanity under the guise of “just asking questions”; politicians and public figures encouraging their bases to target and threaten LGBTQ-friendly events and organizations; and fearmongering in the press and on social media. Most of these attacks, and the misinformation that fuels them, are targeted at trans people, and far too often, at trans youth.
In 2022, NCTE tracked 207 different pieces of anti-trans legislation across 35 states. 12 states enacted at least one of these bills. More than 80% of them targeted the rights of vulnerable trans youth and young adults. In addition, this year politicians in several states used administrative, rather than legislative processes to attack the rights of trans people. For instance, in Texas, the Attorney General misused his authority to harass the supportive families of trans children, falsely labeling their support of their children as “child abuse”.
When politicians and pundits treat trans people's lives as a matter of public debate, the media responds in kind, giving anti-trans advocates a larger platform to share their hostile rhetoric. Sensationalist headlines lead stories that care more about attracting clicks and advertising impressions than in reporting the facts. For example, just days before the Club Q shooting, the New York Times published a front-page article perpetuating misinformation about gender affirming care for children.
Even when anti-trans policies are defeated, they impact the transgender public. In a 2021 study by the Trevor Project, 85% of trans youth reported that the public debates around their civil rights and their place in society left them scared, stressed, angry, and hopeless.
Even more concerning, the same dehumanizing rhetoric that harms trans youth, also inflames anti-LGBTQ sentiment among the general public. When politicians and the media paint trans people as something to be treated with fear and disgust, people who are already receptive to that message take it to heart, and it reinforces their prejudices. In their minds, trans people either become victims to be saved from ourselves, or villains to be punished. One example of this in action is the misuse of the term “groomer”. Anti-LGBTQ activists have appropriated this terminology, used by survivors of childhood sexual abuse, and used it to slander LGBTQ people and our allies as predatory, harmful toward children.
In reality, trans people are significantly more likely to be the victims of sexual abuse than perpetrators of it. And now this misused terminology has become part of the political discourse around trans people, and is invoked as a reason to further restrict our rights in the name of protecting children. This same rhetoric has subsequently been used as justification for violent anti-LGBTQ activism. Heavily armed protestors have made numerous attacks or attempts at intimidation against family-friendly Pride events and drag performances around the country. Even hospitals have been targeted with bomb threats and intimidation tactics, based on social media figures spreading baseless stories that the providers are, in their words, “mutilating children”.
There's a straight line that can be drawn from the legislation trying to strip trans people of our human rights, to the increasingly hostile and inflammatory rhetoric portraying us as a threat to society, to the acts of violence that have taken far too many lives. The people engaged in these efforts, from the politicians and media figures who normalize the dehumanization of trans people, to the influencers who vilify us on social media, to the people brandishing firearms and making bomb threats, bear culpability for the violence that ensues.
The Williams Institute estimates there are 1.6 million Americans age 13 and up, who are transgender. We live in every state in the nation. We are librarians, we are your baristas, your postal workers, your IT department. We're your children, your doctors, your nurses, and your ministers. Trans people are also your constituents. Trans people are part of the fabric of American society. We belong, we deserve to be protected, and we matter. Thank you.