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ANALYSIS: Is There A Transgender Murder Epidemic In The United States?

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Bradley Devlin General Assignment & Analysis Reporter
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NBC News recently reported that murders of transgender individuals are up 266% in 2021. Before the spike, activists were already calling the murder rate among the transgender population in the United States an “epidemic.”

But what is the murder rate for transgender individuals in the United States, and is it proportionally higher than other demographics? 

The 266% surge in transgender murders in 2021 represents an increase from three to 11 transgender homicide victims in the United States, NBC News reported. The Human Rights Campaign has argued since 2019 that the violence against transgender Americans constitutes “a national epidemic.” President Joe Biden has made a similar remark on Twitter. The millennial-focused digital media outlet Mic even keeps a database of transgender murders in the United States, called “Unerased: Counting Transgender Lives.” The latest Mic figures claim that, in total, 23 transgender individuals were murdered in 2016.

The Williams Institute, a “research center on sexual orientation and gender identity law and public policy” housed within UCLA’s law school found in October 2016 that around 0.6% of U.S. adults identified as transgender in 2016. The Williams Institute claimed that the total adult transgender population in the United States is 1.4 million.

In order to extrapolate the homicide rate among U.S. transgender adults in 2016 per 100,000, divide the 23 homicide victims identified by Mic by the total transgender population of 1.4 million, and then multiply by 100,000. The result is 1.64 per 100,000 transgender individuals were murdered in 2016. However, the FBI annual report titled “Crime in the United States” for 2016 showed that the homicide rate for the general U.S. population was 5.4 per 100,000. This data seems to indicate that in 2016, the homicide rate was 3.92 times higher among the general U.S. population than the U.S. transgender population.

However, LGBTQ advocates draw special attention to the murder rate among black transgender women, black biological males that identify as female. Mic’s database claims that from 2010 to 2016, “72% of trans homicide victims were black trans women and femmes.” Assuming that black transgender women comprised 72% of the transgender homicide victims in 2016, then out of the 23 transgender homicide victims in 2016, 16.56 were black transgender women.

The Williams Institute’s analysis found that while black individuals made up around 12% of the U.S. general population in 2016, they made up 16% of the U.S. transgender population. Multiplying 0.16 and 1.4 million in order to extrapolate the transgender population that is racially black, and this estimates that this sub-demographic is comprised of around 224,000 individuals. But we also must find how many of these black transgender individuals are transgender women.

The 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey (USTS) Report on the Experiences of Black Respondents found that 30% of black transgender respondents identified as transgender women — not including individuals who identified as cross-dressers or as nonbinary, but biological males that present as females. Assuming this figure held for 2016, 30% of 224,000 equals 67,200 black transgender female adults in the United States.

Dividing 16.56 by 67,200, and then multiplying by 100,000, it is possible to extrapolate that the homicide rate of black transgender women per 100,000 in the United States in 2016 was 24.64. Thus, the rate of homicide among black transgender women was 4.56 times higher than the general U.S. population in 2016. (RELATED: 53% of Voters Support Banning Trans Athletes In Women’s Sports, Poll Shows)

However, the number of black transgender females found using the USTS’s results may be underestimated, as other studies have shown that generally, there is approximately a 3:1 ratio of male-to-female versus female-to-male transgender individuals. If these studies are more reflective of reality than the USTS’s results, then the population of black transgender females may be as high as 168,000 in the United States. By dividing 16.56 by 168,000 and multiplying this by 100,000, extrapolation suggests the homicide rate of black transgender women was 9.86 per 100,000 in 2016 — much lower than our previous estimate.

Given large racial disparities in homicide rates among the U.S. population, how does the murder rate of black male-to-female transgender individuals compare to the homicide rates of cis black men and cis black women? 

A Violence Policy Center 2016 report titled “Black Homicide Victimization in the United States” found that, among U.S. black men, the homicide rate was 37.12 per 100,000. The murder rate among black males is 6.87 times higher than the homicide rate among the U.S. general population, and 4.48 times higher than the overall male homicide rate of 8.29 per 100,000.

For black females, the Violence Policy Center report said the homicide rate was 5.07 per 100,000. The 5.07 figure is lower than the average U.S. population murder rate of 5.4 in 2016, but 2.57 times higher than the 1.97 per 100,000 overall female homicide rate.

While the phenomenon of transgender murder is not the “national epidemic” activists groups like the Human Rights Campaign would have the public believe, there are certainly causes for concern. Mic’s database found that from 2010 to 2016, 35% of transgender homicide victims were killed by an intimate partner, 19% involved sex work, and 23% were the result of “stranger violence.”