By Maritza Martinez
As the Executive Director of Somos Familia, I live and work at the intersection of two communities who are deeply impacted by discrimination, violence, and inequity. I see firsthand how LGBTQ+ Latinx people live in a constant state of uncertainty. Our next president will have an impact on how our country responds to ongoing battles facing the LGBTQ+ community and I am holding our presidential candidates accountable to their commitments.
This is why I watched intently last week’s Equality Town Hall hosted by the Human Rights Campaign and CNN. Each candidate spoke at length about their plans, beliefs, and commitments to advance LGBTQ+ rights.
The nine candidates that participated all faced questions and protests about the crisis facing black transgender women, 20 of which have been murdered in the US this year alone. There have been more than 150 known victims of anti-transgender violence since 2013 and the average life expectancy of transgender women of color is just 31 years old. The statistics on violence are staggering and underreported. This is unacceptable.
While many of the candidates support tougher law enforcement penalties for hate crimes against the transgender community, that cannot be the only solution. It is critical that we support the transgender community with discrimination protections, employment programs, safe school environments for transgender students, and affirming, holistic healthcare coverage.
The candidates must also recognize the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community. We are an intersectional community with multiple identities. This means that issues like income inequality, student loan debt, homelessness, and our broken immigration system, impact the community greatly. The predominant narrative focuses on partnered LGBTQ+ people and family creation. While these issues certainly impact communities of color, they may not be the most pressing for all. I would like to see candidates meaningfully address these intersections.
For example, Homeland Security reports that 300 transgender people have been in immigration detention since October of 2018. Those detained face violence, lack of access to medical care, and are denied food and water. A 2018 study found that LGBTQ+ people in ICE custody are 97 times more likely to be sexually victimized than non-LGBTQ+ people in detention.
While marriage equality was a giant leap forward in protecting the rights of the LGBTQ+ community, it wasn’t a panacea, solving all the issues facing our diverse community. For example, even though they can legally marry, lesbian couples and their families are more likely to live in poverty than their heterosexual counterparts according to the Williams Institute. This is in part due to income inequality. Women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men and that number decreases to 62 cents for African American women and 54 cents for Latina women.
Tomorrow night, I will be watching the next presidential debate to learn more about the candidate’s thoughts on these issues, especially alternatives to immigration incarceration for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers.
We all need a more nuanced understanding of LGBTQ+ identities and must recognize the diversity and adversity each segment of our community faces. I hope our current presidential candidates will step up to the plate to continue this important conversation.
Maritza Martinez is the Executive Director of Somos Familia, a Bay Area organization working to build leadership in Latinx families and communities so people of all genders and sexual orientations can thrive, and a founding member of the Latinx LGBTQ Giving Circle at the Latino Community Foundation.