by Meghan Olson •
Fern Feather (she/her or they/them) was kind and free-spirited, with a love of animals, especially birds. At the age of 29, she was known to bring joy to everyone around her and friends remember her as a brilliant “wildflower.” Fern Feather, a transgender woman, was killed in Morristown, Vermont on April 12, 2022. Her death is at least the 12th violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2022. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.
After Feather’s body was recovered, the cause of death was ruled a homicide. Since then, a suspect has been arrested and charged with second-degree murder for the stabbing death of Feather.
Tragically, interpersonal violence accounts for a significant number of fatalities against transgender and gender non-conforming people. A report by the HRC Foundation, “An Epidemic of Violence 2021,” found that between 2013 and 2021, found that between 2013 and 2021, approximately two thirds of transgender and gender non-conforming people with known killers had their lives taken by an acquaintance, friend, family member or intimate partner. Intimate partners specifically accounted for over a fifth (21%) of all known perpetrators–and it is likely this may even be an undercount. To date, the relationship of the victim to the killer is still unknown for a plurality (43%) of all identified cases of fatal violence.
Additionally, according to the 2015 United States Transgender Survey, 54% of transgender and non-binary people have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their life. Last year, HRC released a report, titled “LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence and COVID-19,” that details the increased risk of interpersonal violence faced by LGBTQ+ people which has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Fern Feather was misgendered in some media and police reports. Since then, several media outlets have corrected the coverage to list Feather’s chosen name. Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment by some in the media, law enforcement and elected offices. According to HRC research, it is estimated that approximately three-quarters of all known victims were misgendered by the media and/or by law enforcement. In the pursuit of greater accuracy and respect, HRC offers guidelines for journalists and others who report on transgender people. HRC, Media Matters and the Trans Journalists Association have also partnered on an FAQ for reporters writing about anti-trans violence.
At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Vermont are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. Vermont does include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics in its hate crimes law. Though we have recently seen some political gains that support and affirm transgender people, we have also faced anti-LGBTQ+ attacks at many levels of government this year. As of this writing, more than 270 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are under consideration in state legislatures across the country, more than 110 of which directly target transgender people.
We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation at the local, state and federal levels, while also considering every possible way to make ending this violence a reality. It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, especially Black transgender women. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive, so we must all work together to cultivate acceptance, reject hate and end stigma for everyone in the trans and gender non-conforming community.
Learn more about the fatal violence cases that HRC is tracking where details are unclear. You may find a list of these cases here.
Watch this PSA campaign elevating stories of trans joy and love.
Join HRC's CountMeIn campaign to take action for transgender and non-binary people.
Read these guidelines and this FAQ for journalists to ensure greater accuracy and respect in reporting.
The more people who show they care, including allies and trans and non-binary people who speak up for the most marginalized in our community, the more hearts and minds we will change.
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