It is time for this state to ensure protections for all Mississippians.
By Jennifer Riley Collins, Executive Director
Over the last couple of days, I have observed with a bit of disappointment the lack of coverage of the horrific death of a community member. This is Mississippi! We are a community. I do not think we have become so insensitive when people in our community are shot, killed, and left on the side of the road. In fact, we typically would be outraged.
So, what’s different? Why is the death of Mesha Caldwell not a top news story? Very simply - because we focus more on the fact that she was transgender than the fact the she was killed. Come on Mississippi! This young woman is a Mississippian. She was a member of our community. She has family and friends who mourn her loss. She also has family and friends who deserve answers and protection.
Transgender people are at a greater risk than others in an already trying environment. We all know that Mississippi is an impoverished state. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey that was just released in December 2016, the rate of unemployment for transgender people is three times higher than the general population. For transgender people of color, it’s even worse. Mississippi struggles with disparate and harsh treatment practices within its school halls. Nearly 80% of transgender people report experiencing harassment at school when they were young.
Despite the Mississippi Hospitality and Restaurants Association’s “Everyone’s Welcome Here” campaign or private organizations echoing “If you’re buying we are selling” slogan to show support, state elected leadership have failed to ensure all Mississippians are secure. Greater awareness and inclusive logos have not yet translated into broader acceptance and security. Transgender community members are subject to being physically assaulted and harassed in retail stores, restaurants and other public accommodations. For transgender women of color, who face transphobia and racism, the barriers to equity and risks are greater. According to GLAAD, 26 transgender people were killed in the United States in 2016, and “nearly all of the victims were transgender women of color.”
Mississippi has no state law and very few local ordinances that clearly prohibit discrimination against transgender people. The Mississippi Civil Rights Act, proposed by the ACLU of Mississippi last year and again in 2017, would eliminate the open practice of discrimination and provide equal treatment and protection for Mesha and all Mississippians. Similar bills that embrace equality for all, such as the establishment of an actual state “hate crime” statute inclusive of gender identity and not just an enhanced penalty, would also have provided protection. Instead, some of our legislators have focused their attention on hateful and divisive rhetoric and unnecessary legislation that echo partisan sound bites and codify discrimination.
Will Mesha’s family and friends get that protection in Mississippi? Legislators and state leaders, this could be your daughter or son. Please protect them, protect us, and ensure that all Mississippians live secure lives.
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