Hate Crimes Against Transgender People


The jarring and persistent rise of hate crimes against transgender people has received more attention from social scientists and the media of late, which may bring more resources to the problem and prompt more victims to seek help.

However, trans persons and their advocates say that those offering assistance should recognize that there are still many victims reluctant to speak up, and those who do will benefit most from a careful awareness of the unique, specific struggles they face.

Those concerns come as crimes against transgender people jumped 20% in 2019, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (2019).

A British survey (Galop, 2020) showed that about 80% of respondents in the trans community reported they had suffered from transphobic hate crimes. Research related to young adults in the U.S. indicate that more than three in five transgender youth reported they were attacked (Mitchell, Jones, & Turner, 2020), and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC, 2020) reported more than 44 transgender or gender-nonconforming persons died by violence in 2020, up from 27 the prior year (HRC, 2019). Most were Black or Latinx women.

Just before his election, President Joe Biden called anti-trans violence an epidemic that needs national leadership (Taylor, 2020).

“Some portion of these increases might be a result of better data, reporting or awareness of an issue here, but that isn’t the main factor. We are seeing this in other regions and across the board,” says Markie Twist, PhD, a University of Wisconsin-Stout human development and family studies/marriage and family therapy professor and AAMFT Clinical Fellow, who has studied the issue. “It is clear that the problem has become more and more serious.”

Twist notes that transgender women of color have a higher level of violence against them than any other segment of the population and that transgender youth suffer abuse —ranging from physical assault to bullying and name calling—at a much higher rate than their peers. Often, it occurs at home. “I think the pandemic has just made all sorts of abuse worse. The isolation and fear causes hypervigilance, depression, anxiety and a lot of other mental health issues that can result in conflict and violence.”

Twist notes that the use of technology and social media—exacerbated by the pandemic—has heightened the problem, giving people who are prone to hate more power, a bigger platform and anonymity.

The unique concern

There is a disproportionate amount of mistreatment by police against trans people suspected or accused of a crime (Walters, Paterson, Brown, & McDonnell, 2020), and a sense they are less likely to be treated fairly or compassionately by law enforcement if they are victims. They may also be treated harshly by those with certain strong religious beliefs and be discriminated against in hiring or housing (Hall & DeLaney, 2019). Often, transgender youth are mistreated at home.

Twist says society often either fetishizes or demonizes transgender people, particularly in popular media. It creates a bias in society that causes the unmatched levels of abuse and violence.

AD Transgender Assessments

Our gender identities are sensationalized for the cisgender gaze in ways that continue to depict us as other.

The treatment needed

“The result of the mistreatment is high rates of mental health issues and suicide,” Twist says.

Transgender clients who have suffered a hate crime and are verbal about it obviously need support, but because of the prevalence of hate crimes in the community, any trans person may need to address the issue of mistreatment they have faced as they work with therapists.

Experts say, initially, therapists or others working with transgender people should fully understand their specific position and their experience and be sensitive to their needs.

“In order to not blame the victim and effectively work with trans folks, therapists need to educate themselves about the powerful social discourses that promote violence against trans and nonbinary folks,” says Erica Hartwell, PhD, associate professor of marriage and family therapy at Fairfield, CT, University, and AAMFT Clinical Fellow, who specializes in mental health issues for queer and trans people and is past chair of the Queer and Trans Advocacy Network for AAMFT. “We must learn about the gender binary system, the ways that it restricts and oppresses natural human behavior and expression, and the ways that we uphold it. Then, we can, at least partially, understand the source of violence against trans people.”

The lack of understanding can create frustration for these clients in fundamental ways. “I think one of the obvious differences is making sure that the person’s identity is recognized and respected,” says Alex Iantaffi, PhD, AAMFT Clinical Fellow and an educator and therapist who has written two books about gender issues and hosts a podcast called “Gender Stories.”

Iantaffi says trauma therapy is often most effective, for example, but that “sometimes trans people have difficulties even finding a trauma therapist who can use their name and pronouns correctly, which, of course, would impact the ability to co-create an effective therapeutic relationship. Trans people are often portrayed deceiving cisgender people or as unhappy and villainous—and are rarely shown in traditional life settings or jobs.”

“Rather our gender identities are sensationalized for the cisgender gaze in ways that continue to depict us as other,” Iantaffi says.

Those biases create confusion and stress and other harmful mental health issues for trans clients, and may cause therapists to have subtle implicit biases about the client and their experience or the circumstances of a hate crime that caused them to seek therapy,” Twist notes. Further, “therapists should not make ‘cisgenderist’ assumptions about trans clients and should understand that their life experience could be very different and challenging.”

“The most important assumption to avoid when working with anyone who has experienced trauma, violence, or abuse, is that they are at fault for what happened to them,” Hartwell says. “This may seem obvious, but our culture does have a tendency to blame the victim, and when you pair that with transphobia, we may find ourselves wondering if the violence might have been avoided if the person didn’t dress a certain way, if they did a better job passing, or if their appearance did not violate our society’s gender norms.”

Hate Crimes Lips

We must learn about the gender binary system, the ways that it restricts and oppresses natural human behavior and expression, and the ways that we uphold it.

Hartwell adds that caregivers should “actively work to identify their own transphobia, their own cissexism, and their own assumptions about gender identity and expression in order to work with any client, but especially to work with a trans client who has experienced violence or abuse because of their gender.” Hartwell notes these clients are more likely to have faced stigma, discrimination, and violence because of their “oppressed identity,” but notes that therapists shouldn’t jump to conclusions.

“We know that therapists make two common mistakes—assuming that a client’s identity is related to presenting issues and assuming that it has nothing to do with it. In order to avoid these mistakes, we must be aware of the potential for violence or discrimination in a client’s life, but also be open to their individual experience and what is salient for them.

Five fundamentals

Hall and DeLaney (2019) noted that trans clients responding to a survey said they would prefer that support and mental healthcare include these five features:

  • emotional trust and safety
  • environmental and physical safety
  • choice and collaboration
  • empowerment
  • cultural and gender issues

The study (Hall & DeLaney, 2019) showed participants seeking support often felt the need to protect themselves against challenges, ranging from microaggressions and gatekeeping to assaults on their identities. They reported that simply educating caregivers was “exhausting,” and they recommended that education be more prevalent for therapists and others providing support.

It also noted that at times clients felt alienated from the LGBTQ community based on their gender identities or the fact that they were non-binary. They were sometimes offended by the exclusionary behaviors of other transgender and gender-expansive people. That’s something therapists should be aware of, and avoid assuming client experiences are the same or that group sessions will be effective for all (Hall & DeLaney, 2019).

James Paterson

James Paterson is a writer and editor with a focus on mental health, education and adolescent development, writing for a variety of national publications.


Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2019). 2019 hate crime statistics. U.S. Department of Justice. Retrieved from https://ucr.fbi.gov/hate-crime/2019/topic-pages/tables/table-1.xls

Galop. (2020). Transphobic hate crime report 2020. Retrieved from https://www.galop.org.uk/transphobic-hate-crime-report-2020/?fbclid=IwAR1hsrk6Bk7Z8uAB_iDTNm5aiIEGOl7gpwChQEVQ7RWzJl1QQIsXyNgFF6o

Hall, S. F., & DeLaney, M. J. (2019): A Trauma-informed exploration of the mental health and community support experiences of transgender and gender-expansive adults. Journal of Homosexuality. DOI: 10.1080/00918369.2019.1696104

Human Rights Campaign. (2019). Violence against the transgender community in 2019. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-transgender-community-in-2019

Human Rights Campaign. (2020). Violence against the transgender community in 2020. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/resources/violence-against-the-trans-and-gender-non-conforming-community-in-2020

Mitchell, K. J., Jones, L. M., & Turner, H. A. (2020). Exposure to multiple forms of bias victimization on youth and young adults: Relationships with trauma symptomatology and social support. Journal of Youth and Adolescence, 49, 1961-1975.

Taylor, J. (2020). Biden calls anti-trans violence an ‘epidemic that needs national leadership.’ NBC News. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/biden-calls-anti-trans-violence-epidemic-needs-national-leadership-n1243932

Walters, M. A., Paterson, J., Brown, R., & McDonnell, L. (2020). Hate crimes against trans people: Assessing emotions, behaviors, and attitudes toward criminal justice agencies. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 35 (21-22), 4583-4613.

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