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"You hear that? Gunshots," Terry Washington, who works as a health education specialist with the program, said to the others. "We have direct orders to get out of here early."
It was the first time the three had done outreach since the September First Fridays when a 21-year-old woman was shot and killed — shortly after they had asked her if she would be interested in TransVision's services. She appeared to be gender-nonconforming, or "masculine presenting," they recalled, though the advocates did not speak to her for very long. A stray bullet reportedly hit the victim, who was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, according to her family. (OPD did not respond to the Express' requests for details regarding the homicide or the shooting involving Martell, and would only confirm that the incidents occurred.) According to Woods, however, the police are investigating whether the shooting stemmed from a comment made about a transgender woman. (Woods said she communicates regularly with cops about the search for Martell's killer.)
"What we do is not glamorous," Woods said during an interview at her Fremont office, where she has a memorial wall honoring local transgender "sisters" who have died over the years. The wall features around forty names — six that the group considers murder victims and most others who died from AIDS — along with various newspaper clippings that display a lack of sensitivity in the media to the transgender community. "What we do gets no attention," said Woods. "We don't get invited to conferences. But what we are doing is changing lives."
The main work of TransVision, a program within Tri-City Health Center, is HIV prevention and education, as well as non-HIV primary care for transgender men and women, including access to hormone treatment. Woods, who lives with her wife and three children in San Leandro, co-founded the program a decade ago in response to the death of Gwen Araujo, a seventeen-year-old transgender woman who was beaten and strangled to death by four men in Newark on October 3, 2002.
TransVision is part of a growing community of organizations who are working on transgender issues in the East Bay. In the last year, four other organizations that work with the transgender community have moved or expanded into Oakland. Meanwhile, advocates have helped advance both state and federal legislation designed to protect transgender people from discrimination. Still, trans advocates in Alameda County say resources for their causes have been sparse, and they have even struggled at times to get support from within the LGBT rights movement.
There isn't enough support for those who are homeless, who face housing and job discrimination, and who are victims of domestic abuse, activists say. Some transgender people may also suffer from mental health problems stemming from family rejection or physical abuse. These issues may not be as headline-grabbing as same-sex marriage, but they are some of the most pressing needs, advocates say.
In a survey of 573 male-to-female transgender women with a history of sex work in Oakland and San Francisco (published in 2011 in the American Journal of Public Health), more than two-thirds reported being ridiculed or embarrassed by family members because of their trans identity. One-third of the group reported "daily verbal harassment in adolescence and extreme difficulties in handling the harassment." One quarter said they were physically assaulted in adulthood because of their gender identity or appearance.
According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey, 41 percent of black respondents said they had experienced homelessness (five times the national rate). Transgender people experience poverty at twice the national rate (for trans people of color, it's four times the national rate), noted the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs' 2012 report on hate violence.
This data only scratches the surface of the daily struggle for transgender people. "You have to be on guard all of the time. We go through this every day," said Trisha Wilson, a 52-year-old transgender woman who lives in San Francisco's Tenderloin district. "It's the constant harassment — the fear that someone is going to jump on me, going to attack me, going to stab me. I'm cautious wherever I go."
Wilson said whenever she gets "the look" from passersby, she knows it means trouble. Sometimes, they laugh at her. Other times, the harassment is more threatening.
Jasmine McKay, a 29-year-old transgender woman and health educator who works in Oakland, recalled a time when three men circled her at an Oakland BART station as she pretended to listen to music on her headphones. "They kept walking back and forth around me," she said. "I heard them talking, 'Is that a man? Is that a woman?'"
In the past, McKay would speak out when she was being harassed and shout back, "I am a woman!" — especially when she was beginning the process of her transition.
"Now, I'm like, whatever," she said. "I'm not going to start any trouble."
McKay said threats have also come from partners. "There's such a power dynamic with women and men in general, but especially in the trans community. It's like your being trans allows a man to have power over you. They choose whether they want to be seen with you or not, if you're worthy to be seen or not. And if you are with them, they're doing you a favor."
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