Gay Pride month should be a time of celebration. But for too many queer and transgender folks, the heightened visibility that comes along with Pride can also attract unwanted attention.
Across the country, recent hate crimes against members of the queer community have made national headlines. In New York City, the murder of 33-year-old Mark Carson in the iconic West Village neighborhood prompted some of the largest rallies for LGBT rights that the city’s seen in years. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those rallies were led in part by City Council speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn who, if she wins the city’s top job, would become one of the highest profile openly gay elected officials in the country. Quinn was so moved to act that she announced that her office would offer free self-defense classes to members of the gay community.
Lost amid some of this understandable panic is the fact that queer folks have been fighting back against violence and harassment for years. And that’s especially true for transgender women of color, who are most often the targets of violence. According to a report published recently by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, hate crimes against LGBT people are on a dangerous rise, and those most likely to face such violence are people of color.
The causes for such violence are complex. Transgender women of color are, for instance, more than three times as likely as white, non-transgender LGBT people to experience violence at the hands of police officers. When I spoke to advocates who work to combat violence in the queer community, I heard over and over again how prevalent police violence was in the lives of queer and transgender folks. In other ways, much of the violence is deeply intimate, particularly for transgender women who are often targeted following consensual sexual encounters or by family members. And in places like Brooklyn, Oakland, and Detroit existing tensions over gentrification can be exacerbated by sexuality, causing a confusing mix of conflict that erupts into violence.
With all of this complexity in mind, I gathered a list of safety and self-defense tips from advocates who’ve been working with their communities on violence and collecting experience on how to deal with it. San Francisco-based Communities United Against Violence (CUAV) also shared its "Gems of Change" posters, in which members of its anti-violence cohort described the basic mental and emotional steps they take to stay safe and well in the bedroom–and on the streets. Scroll down to check them out. And here’s the hard advice antiviolence advocates offered.
Try to travel in groups. It’s always safer to travel in numbers. One organizer told me of how they successfully got in touch with party hosts and club owners to start ride/walk shares from events, where people wrote their names on a list and the times they were leaving, so that they could travel around in groups.
Have a safety plan. Sometimes you have to travel alone. And if you do, make sure that someone knows where you are and where you’re going. Say you’re going out to a party or a club. Tell a friend that you’ll call them when you get home, and if they don’t hear from you, then they should call you to check in.
Carry some cash. Always a good idea, but always carry enough to at least cover a taxi ride home.
Remember at least one of your friends’ numbers. I know. Who actually remembers anyone’s phone number anymore? But, as explained by Carolina Morales from Communities United Against Violence in San Francisco, Calif., remembering someone’s number could make a huge difference. You could lose your phone or, better yet, use it as a weapon to fight off an attack. And if you do, chances are you’ll probably lose it. Make sure you remember at least one person’s phone number who you call in case of an emergency.
If something does happen, report it. No amount of prevention can keep you 100 percent safe. When and if something does happen, it’s important to report it, says Chelsea Johnson-Long of the Audre Lorde Project in Brooklyn. Both the New York City Anti-Violence Project and Communities United Against Violence have 24-hour hotlines. Even if you’re not in the area, you can call and they can help walk you through the process of documenting what happened.
Want more resources? New York City’s Anti-Violence Project has some great general tools for confronting and talking about violence. And here are CUAV’s tips for staying safe during Pride.
Image: Gems of Change posters produced by Community United Against Violence, a multicultural organization working to end violence against LGBTQ communities.