By Quani Burnett, she/her
“Transphobia has been ingrained into society from the beginning of time,” says Trans Defense Fund LA Founder, Nikki Nguyen. It’s a statement that rings painfully true. Attacks based on gender and gender identity have been on the rise in recent years, and according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a record high 44 murders were recorded in the United States in 2020. This reported number is likely lower than the actual, as many are either inaccurately reported genders misidentified.
Trans Defense Fund LA is a mutual-aid group created in response to the disproportionate instances of violence against trans women of color. The Trans Defense Team consists of just ten people—its founder (Nguyen), Camila Camaleón, who is training to be a self-defense instructor, Mae Lawhon, a graphic designer, Eric Cota, an event coordinator, Charlotte Renner, who runs kit deliveries, Savannah Peykani in event planning, Annette Nguyem in analytics and social media, Freddy Jimenez who manages kit orders, Connie Lau, a self-defense trainer, and Kelly Hebestreit, who manages storage.
Through donations and creative projects (such as the sale of sticker packs,) the Trans Defense Fund LA team provide self-defense kits made up of items like stun guns, pepper gel, tactical flashlights, and window breakers—all with a handy guide on how to safely use them as needed when on the receiving end of violence. From their last round of donations, the Trans Defense Fund was able to purchase 180 kits just in May. They have supplied 730 self-defense since their founding in 2020.
Though the origins of transphobia vary, one source of discriminatory bias is a main cause of transphobia and transphobic attacks, according to Nguyen: the “mainstream demonization and mockery that the media, religious systems, and the government have manufactured.” It’s why the work that Nguyen and her team are cultivating at Trans Defense Fund LA is fundamentally important.
Safety and identity are intertwined in the trans community. As trans folks work to find their place—both within the realm of self-identity and finding a place in the world, their lives are often met with stigma, misunderstanding, and violence. Allies can play a strong role in getting rid of stigma around the trans community while working simultaneously to actively protect trans folx. Cisgender individuals can and should educate themselves on gender, feminism, and the trans experience as a start. According to Nguyen, there’s a lot of self work involved in dismantling oppressive transphobia, including the dismantling of beliefs—conscious or not—around “toxic masculinity and the trans-exclusionary behavior that has been taught through generations,” Nguyen says.
Beyond this self work, action, amplification, and support of trans safety remains vital—something that all folks reading this can do. Work to become aware, identify your own biases, and donate (both monetarily and in-kind)—these are all forms of activism. Through the work of centering and amplifying trans experiences and voices, together, we can dream and envision a world where trans folks can live without violence and with freedom.Learn more about Trans Defense Fund LA and ways to support by visiting their website.