Transgender Day of Remembrance: Police protection is key in addressing violence against trans and gender-diverse people
The Malaysian trans advocacy group Justice for Sisters has called for police respond more effectively and professionally to incidents of anti-trans violence.
This is the statement from Justice for Sisters on the occasion of the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance:
Every year on Nov. 20, in conjunction with Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR), we honour transgender and gender-diverse people whose lives were lost in acts of gender-based violence. Gender-diverse people include gender non-conforming people, who may or may not be transgender but are perceived as transgender or LGBT people based on the way they express themselves or their gender expression.
The significance and urgency of TDOR now are greater than it has ever been. Globally, between 1 October 2022 and 30 September 2023, 320 trans and gender-diverse people were reported murdered, according to the Trans Murder Monitoring Update 2023.
In Malaysia, at least four cases were documented between January and November 2023 through media monitoring and community reporting, double the previous year’s figures.
- 26 January 2023 – a trans woman in Kuala Lumpur was found dead in her home after missing for three days. The police suspected foul play, as there was packed food on the table and her door was unlocked.
- 8 June 2023 – a trans woman was found dead in Selangor in her own home. Although her death appeared as a suicide, bruises were found on her body, face, and arms. Police apprehended a suspect, although the outcome of the case is unknown. Family members spoke out publicly, seeking justice for the death of their daughter. The case was reported in the Tamil media.
- 4 July 2023 – a trans woman in Kuala Lumpur was found dead in her home. She was fully clothed and in make-up.
- 10 October 2023 – a trans woman was found dead in a pedestrian tunnel in Johor. The police reported blunt trauma to her head and chest. The police ruled out foul play.
These, and previous cases reveal a trend in the vulnerability of trans women to gender-based violence. Trans women sex workers are especially vulnerable to violence by their clients. The criminalisation of both trans women’s gender identity and sex work increases their vulnerability to violence with impunity while restricting access to redress. In two cases, the police, family, and friends suspect the intimate partner as the perpetrator.
While the police do carry out investigations in these cases, the gaps in the way these cases are handled result in a lack of justice and closure for family members and loved ones.
These gaps include:
- Ruling out elements of ‘hate crimes’. The recent murder of a trans woman in Johor is an example of prematurely omitting the possibility of a hate crime.
- [Incompetence] in analysing and investigating hate crimes and severe cases of gender-based violence against trans and gender-diverse persons. In October 2023, the Penang High Court acquitted five men of T. Nhaveen’s murder due to inconsistencies in the evidence. The judge was quoted in the media saying “The police have failed to conduct investigations into this case fairly.” The trial was also reportedly delayed over paperwork and only began in May 2021. In 2017, Nhaveen died a few days after being brutally assaulted. Nhaveen was assaulted because their gender expression did not fit the masculine standards of society. The assailants, some of whom were Nhaveen’s former classmates, have a history of bullying and violence – including sexual violence – against Nhaveen based on gender expression. While the Attorney General Chambers’ (AGC) office will be appealing the decision, the family members continue to suffer from the lack of justice for Nhaveen.
- [Failure to use] trans- and gender-affirming language. In cases of hate crimes, the police are the main source of information, and the way they describe trans people has a ripple effect on how the media reports the case. This is exacerbated by some media’s already poor standards in reporting trans-related news. The media has repeatedly used dehumanising language when referring to trans people …, and deliberate misgendering, which contributes to the public perception that trans and gender-diverse lives are worth less than others. This amplification has a far-reaching effect in increasing discrimination against trans people and propagating a culture of anti-trans violence with impunity due to exclusion, criminalisation, and lack of protection.
TDOR is an opportunity for us all to reflect on how we can change these conditions and advocate for laws that protect trans and gender-diverse persons against discrimination. We urge the [Royal Malaysia Police (PDRM)] to engage and learn from the other countries in ASEAN [the Association of Southeast Asian Nations] in responding to gender-based violence against trans, LGBTIQ, and gender-diverse people. The Philippine National Police (PNP) in 2018 launched the LGBT Help and Protection Desks in police stations nationwide.