Less than 24 hours after California Assemblyman Tim Donnelly announced he would be pulling his child out of public school in response to a law guaranteeing transgender students the right to safely use the bathroom, Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old fashion marketing student and transgender woman, was brutally beaten outside a police precinct in New York City earlier this month.
Nettles remained in a coma later that week, while a majority of mainstream news outlets reacted to Chelsea Manning’s public statement about her gender identity by repeatedly using her former name and masculine pronouns to report on her transition.
It was Aug. 22, the same day that Mansfield Frazier blithely announced on the pages of the Daily Beast that transgender people are treated “like royalty” while incarcerated, that Nettles’ family took her off life support.
And on Aug. 27, while hundreds of mourners prepared to gather for a vigil in Nettles’ honor, “Fox and Friends” opened a segment on Manning with Aerosmith’s “Dude Looks Like a Lady.”
These are not unrelated events. Our culture’s ignorance about transgender rights isn’t just a matter of semantics, media bluster or political fault lines; popular narratives that dehumanize the lives and experiences of trans people take a heavy human toll — and come with a body count.
“They were called faggots, they were called he-shes, she-males, things of that nature,” Nettles’ mother, Dolores, told WABC of the assault, in which a 20-year-old man violently attacked Nettles after learning she was transgender.
Nettles’ story is made more tragic by how common such violence is in the United States.