Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of meeting transgender activist Janet Mock at the Women’s March, when we were both there to address the scores of women who came to Washington, D.C. to have their voices heard.
I’ve followed Janet’s career for some time, and I continue to be amazed by her grace, and ability to uplift others with her life story and activism.
It is for this reason that I cannot stay silent about the recent remarks made by comedian Lil Duval on a recent episode of the popular syndicated radio show, The Breakfast Club. Just a few days after Janet was on the show to discuss her latest book, Lil Duval made transphobic comments about fatally harming trans women. The comedian said that if he were unknowingly in a relationship with a trans woman, “I’m probably going to want to kill them.” Although, Duval may have made those remarks in jest, there is nothing remotely funny about the implication of his words.
As Americans we are no strangers to hate-fueled rhetoric. Over the past few years, we have witnessed hateful language becoming part of our every day political discourse. It is troubling to see our leaders espouse racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia, xenophobia and religious intolerance.
What’s more, we know that violence often follows such demeaning language. Although hate crimes are underreported, it’s clear they disproportionately affect marginalized communities, with over half of all reported hate crimes motivated by racism, particularly racism against Black people, and nearly one-fifth motivated by prejudice against one’s sexual orientation.
With all of these factors at play, we must discuss the violence currently threatening our trans brothers and sisters in the United States. Last year was the deadliest year on record for transgender individuals, with at least 27 killed – more than half of them with guns. The majority of the victims were Black trans women.
Shockingly, 2017 may break last year’s tragic record, as already at least 17 transgender individuals, mostly Black trans women, have been killed so far this year. And 65 percent of those victims were fatally shot. The deaths of trans people are often under-reported, and the media often misgenders them, but their names and faces haunt me: TeeTee Richards in Atlanta, Ebony Morgan in Lynchburg, Virginia, Ava Le’Ray in Athens, Georgia, Chyna Doll Dupree in New Orleans, Keke Collier in Chicago, Jojo Striker in Toledo, Ohio. And too many others.
I know firsthand just how deadly hate can be when it comes armed with a gun. My beautiful son, Jordan Davis, was just 17 years old when he was shot and killed while sitting in a car with his friends at a Jacksonville, Fla., gas station by an older white man. His “crimes?" Being Black and playing loud music.
There is not a day that goes by when I do not think of my son, and the man he would have grown up to be. Losing a loved one to violence motivated by bigotry carries with it a trauma and heartbreak I wish for no family or group to ever experience. It is because of my personal tragedy that I have dedicated my life to fighting for gun violence prevention, especially for communities that are underrepresented. It is my solemn duty to be an ally to the trans community.
This is why I cannot take Lil Duval’s words on the Breakfast Club lightly. Words shape how we see the world, whether we’re able to feel compassion for one another and how we work towards including all God’s children, regardless of who they are, into our vision of a humanity. If my son’s killer was able to view Jordan and his friends as teens goofing off, rather as the threats he falsely believed them to be, I’m sure my only son would still be alive today.
If Lil Duval’s words show us anything, it should be that it is past time for us to rid our communities of hateful speech and actions. Nearly 300,000 hate crimes occur in the United States per year, 8,000 of which involve a gun – that’s more than 20 each day. We cannot wait a moment longer to act.
Marginalized Americans should not be defined by the verbal and physical violence that looms over our heads. We have a right to exist, to live as we choose and to be free to pursue our happiness without the fear of others demonizing us or harming us just because of who we are.
Today, I ask that all Americans be mindful of our words and how they may affect the most vulnerable among us. None of us is perfect, and many of us are still learning. But we can all be better today than we were yesterday. We can all be more inclusive of those who are different from us. And we must all understand that the words we use could have violent – even fatal – repercussions tomorrow. Together, we can work to ensure that this country is one that is safe for all of us, and not just some.
Lucia McBath is the faith and outreach leader for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.