By Cherri Gregg
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The recent death of Keisha Jenkins, a young trans woman shot and beaten in an area of Hunting Park known for sex work, has started a conversation about the dangers trans women face. While police say the attack against Jenkins was not the spawned by hate, it underscores a fear in the trans community that they are targets for crime.
According to the Trans People of Color Coalition, 13 Transgender men and women were killed in 2014. That number in 2015 — roughly 21, with majority being trans women of color.
“Living in your truth and walking in your existence is not accepted in what we call normal society,” says Samantha Dato, a trans activist who works at the Mazzoni Center. She says many trans men and women end up on the fringes with no family support, homeless and have to fight for jobs.
“It forces people to find an alternative means to making ends meet to live their life,” she says.
Alternatives like sex work, selling drugs or other high risk behavior that can make trans women easy targets for crime.
“The thought is that if I attack her, if I knock her out, nobody’s going to do anything because nobody cares,” says Naiymah Sanchez, a Trans Latina activist. She runs the TransHealth Information Project at Galaei, a queer Latino social justice organization. Sanchez says knows the life from personal experience. She says she engaged in risky behavior as a young women despite a supportive family.
“For many of us — that’s all we know,” she says, “that’s what we think we have to do. I ended up in some really scary situations — situations where I was held hostage, where I was beaten…I made a lot of money — but my life was at risk.”
Sanchez says many trans youth experience rejection at home, bullying at school and discrimination when trying to get employment so they turn to the streets.
“Education is important, but when you’re being bashed at school and you have no shelter- what are you supposed to do,” says Sanchez, noting that some youth shelters are not trans inclusive. She says many times, trans youth are separated in housing facilities that make them targets for additional attacks. And many of the crimes against trans men and women go unreported.
“There are many reasons why that has happened,” says Dato, “police have never been a safe place for the trans community — but I can say, that while Philadelphia is not 100 percent an ally, they working to make it better.”
“I think trans women are targeted because it’s misunderstood,” says Bella Santos came out as Transgender to her family four years ago. Her family took some time, but now they are supportive. Her high school is as well, but there’s still discrimination.
“Just the look of being trans or not having your name changed yet can throw somebody off,” says Santos, who has dreams of opening a school for trans youth.
“No matter who intellectual you are or how much more qualified you are than others,” she says, “people focus on the fact that you are trans.”
“No one is looking for a hand out,” says Dato, “doing sex work, hustling — those are hard jobs. We just want jobs- we need to hire [trans] people- that’s what people can do to help.”