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Pride 2021: Fighting anti-trans violence in Nevada, building strong communities

Posted at 8:32 AM, Jun 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-08 12:03:19-04

LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — As 13 Action News recognizes Pride Month, we are highlighting issues impacting the LGBTQ community.

Tuesday, coverage focuses on a part of the community that doesn't get enough attention: Those who are transgender.

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It's a fear for millions of transgender people across the nation.

"We are seeing a disproportionate violence directed at Black and brown transgender women," says Sarah Warbelow, Human Rights Campaign legal director.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2020 was the deadliest year for the trans community since the group began collecting data in 2013.

Last year, 45 trans people were violently killed, and unfortunately Nevada is ahead of this deadly statistic.

But for trans people like Selena McAteer who call Vegas home, she says it has been a much safer place than her previous hometown.

McAteer moved to Las Vegas from South Carolina where she says life was a complete opposite.

"I lived in Myrtle Beach for a while before moving to Las Vegas. And it was just not a place that I wanted to transition out. And there was a stigma and everything else. Then, I happened to just transition there," McAteer said.

And McAteer says she has no fear living in Las Vegas. She credits the Silver State's more accepting culture and better legal protections.

"I applaud Nevada for being so progressive. And even if you're non binary or you just don't want to identify as a female, they do have a spot for that. And I thought that was really, really cool," McAteer said.

Having that inner confidence is also key to a better life as a trans woman.

"I'm very comfortable in my skin. If somebody will ask me if I'm trans I would definitely say yes, because that's just respectful," McAteer said.

RELATED: Understanding Non-Binary People -- How to Be Respectful and Supportive

The Human Rights Campaign ranks Nevada high when it comes to protecting civil rights.

Warbelow says the violence against trans people is rooted in our perception.

"It is a lack of acceptance, a lack of understanding of who trans people are and that ongoing discrimination, including the lack of protective laws means that transgender people are having a hard time finding employment, safe housing, health care, which drives people to underground economies," Warbelow said.

All of this increases their risk of encountering violence.

"Until we have a culture that respects and embraces trans people as part of our fabric we're gonna have a hard time getting rid of the violence we are seeing," Warbelow said.

While Nevada is making strides, there is always room for more growth.

Waberlow says one thing Nevada could improve is having gender neutral restrooms.

"It's so easy, we have restrooms that are intended for a single user, there's no reason why they have to be labeled male and female. It really can for be everybody," Warbelow said.

Another big change is how law enforcement interacts with transgender people.

"One is the misgendering of people. That can occur during a minor traffic stop or when a transgender person is murdered and refusal to acknowledge of who that person was." Warbelow said.

Warbelow says another big issue the trans community faces is when law enforcement assumes trans people are involved in sex work.

"It's a problem to be criminalizing sex work period but it is also a problem to be assuming that every trans person is committing a crime simply because they are walking down the street being themselves and we're seeing that happen all over the country," Warbelow said.

Transgender people are often times pushed to those illegal industries.

"In reality, if you think about it in the drag community or even in the sex work community, the money is so easy to be made versus us giving up, having to go to work, having to work for $10 an hour or $15 an hour job for 40 weeks." McAteer said.

The star of FX's hit show "Pose" Dominique Jackson has also not had an easy life as a trans woman.

"We're pushed out on to the streets, we're forced into survival sex work. We're forced to do things that we would not normally do. So, visibility is important because now it lets people know that its OK to be yourself and that we can continue to live normal lives," Jackson said.

Now, with more visibility in media and more transgender people not being afraid to admit who they are, the world is becoming a better place.

RELATED: Nevada leaders celebrate Henderson Pride Parade with signing of bills

MJ Rodriguez also stars in "Pose" and she says the show is a trailblazer for bringing visibility to the community.

"I definitely think it's gonna open more doors down the line. I mean with the prolific and amazing with the show like this where its open for so many trans women, especially trans women of color, I think we're setting the tone, especially with us being firsts," Rodriguez said.

And to open those doors, change starts with you.

"It is stereotypes about LGBTQ people that often lead to unkind and unfair treatment from discrimination to violence," Warbelow said. "There is also a need to not stereotype and when somebody does meet a stereotype to be OK with that. If a transgender woman is taller than average that's OK, It doesn't make any less of a woman. If a transgender man has a higher voice than somebody would anticipate, that's OK and it doesn't make him not a man."

For McAteer, overcoming those stereotypes was her own inner confidence.

"I thought my height would be an issue because I'm 6-foot-1-inch and I don't always feel comfortable in my skin or I just know my body or I just know me. But I personally feel safe," McAteer said.

Warbelow says educating ourselves and those around you are what's going to change the world for better.

"If you've got a friend or a family member who's transgender, it's time to have that conversation with your friend who may have said some things that are less than acceptable,' she said.

And for those struggling with their identity, coming out or transitioning, McAteer has the following advice:

"If you are transitioning and you want that support, reach out for it. It may not be your your given family. It may be your chosen family, but most definitely know that it does get better. And that is very cliche. But it does, especially if you learn yourself and know yourself and be true to yourself without compromise."