Nicole Hall. Tonya Harvey. Viccky Gutierrez. Nino Fortson.
These are the names of just a few of the transgender and gender nonconforming people murdered in 2018.
Violence against this community is at an all-time high, activists say. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2017 was the deadliest year on record for the transgender population. The New York City Anti-Violence Project is trying to do something about it.
Born in struggle
“We work to address and end all forms of violence that impact the LGBTQ and HIV-infected community,” said Beverly Tillery, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project.
The Anti-Violence Project (AVP) began in 1980, a response to brutal attacks against gay men in the New York City neighborhood of Chelsea.
“They were experiencing higher rates of hate violence in the community, and no one was paying attention,” said Tillery.
“Survivors didn’t have a place that was safe for them and affirming for them to get support services.”
Today, AVP has two major aims: taking care of folks who experienced violence and also advocating for policies that protect LGBTQ people.
The group coordinates with National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, a network of 50 organizations that promote anti-violence education and prevention across the United States.
Doing the work
AVP offers a free 24-hour bilingual crisis intervention hotline. The line takes thousands of calls each year. People can report violence anonymously, connect to counseling, or get safety guidance and legal help.
“Our work is really survivor-centered,” said Tillery.
AVP also runs an online reporting platform where victims and witnesses can describe violence they’ve experienced without involving the police.
“LGBTQ people are often traumatized when they go to the police,” said Tillery.
“They often don’t believe that the police care.”
Beyond the one-on-one services, AVP fields community action committees to raise awareness of hate violence, intimate partner abuse and more.
“We hit the streets and do outreach and hold safety nights so that we’re giving people information about how to prevent incidents of violence,” Tillery told CNN.
The group’s latest initiative is #ValueTransLives, a call to action in light of the uptick in violence against transgender people.
“Transphobia really impacts all of us in our society,” Tillery said.
“When people are not valued in our society and seen as less than human, it allows the community to act that out.”
Being transgender while black
According to the National Center for Transgender Equality, more than one in four transgender people are assaulted because of their identity. What’s more, for the last five years the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has documented a consistent and steadily rising number of reports of homicides of transgender women of color.
“I’ve been physically attacked, sexually assaulted, all different kind of forms of violence,” LaLa Zannell told CNN.
Zannell, who is now a lead community organizer for the New York City Anti-Violence Project, says the dangers of being transgender are compounded by being African-American.
“There is a cost for being your unapologetic self in this country,” said Zannell.
“It takes a lot for a trans person to show up every day.”
Zannell says she puts on a performance daily, modeling acceptable behaviors to assimilate into society so she won’t be hurt.
“You always have anxiety all the time, from when you leave your home to wake up in the morning.”
The day Zannell connected with AVP changed her life, she said.
“I was so empowered by the stuff that they gave me that I wanted to take it around the whole city.”
Call to action
“It’s really important for people to stand up in a number of ways,” Tillery, AVP’s executive director, told CNN.
She suggests being an active bystander, meaning learning to recognize the signs of a potentially violent situation and — when it’s safe for everyone involved — intervening.
• Call for help.
• Ask a victim they are okay.
• Help the person get home safely.
“Until people are willing to stand up in some way,” Tillery says, “the violent acts will continue.”