Post contributed by Kendall Stephens, community advocate
The following details a physical violence against a transgender person which can be triggering for some individuals. Reading at your discretion is advisable.
Tell us your name, pronouns and title.
My name is Kendall Stephens, I go by she/her/hers pronouns and I am a community advocate and junior at Temple University studying public health.
Tell us, in your own words, about what happened when you were attacked inside your own home.
It was the first day of classes and I was in my upstairs bedroom studying and getting a head start on assignments when I heard what sounded like fighting outside of my door. I went downstairs to investigate, as my two goddaughters, 12 and 16, were downstairs watching television and were concerned as well. My 12-year-old goddaughter curiously peeked out the door and found a crowd of people outside my home, one of whom cursed her out. When the crowd refused to disperse, I called 911.
At this time, a woman who I never saw before in my life questioned why I was pointing at my own godchildren and started cursing at me, sparking a verbal exchange between her and I. I told her I was calling 911 and the next thing I remember, the woman charged at me and hit me square in my face with a closed fist. She forced her way into my home, followed by her friends who joined in the assault. I ended up in my dining room getting attacked by four women at all sides of me, and then suddenly one of the women picked up a wooden decorative planter and began hitting me about my head and face with it, causing me to become concussed and black out momentarily.
Throughout the attack the woman referred to me as a “man” and ”tranny.” The assault did not end there. Several men stormed into the home as well and pulled the women away, but did not pull them away before getting a few hits in as well and calling me the n word and a “f*cking tranny.” I was finally able to break free from the assault and enter a nearby basement until I was certain they left my house. My injuries were as follows: broken nose in two places, bruised right ribs, head contusion, facial swelling, busted lip and gums and broken gum vessels that caused two of my teeth to become necrotic.
I am thankful that my two goddaughters were frightened, but ultimately physically unharmed.
What lessons do you hope people learn from this incident and from your work?
I hope people understand that trans people everywhere are under siege due to rampant transphobia in the public. We were never safe outside of our homes, but now we are not even safe inside of our own homes, and though that may be impossible to fathom for the typical American, this is our reality. Although some laws exist that protect people on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, those laws are often not followed. While Philadelphia does recognize attacks against transgender people as hate crimes, Pennsylvania does not have a statewide law that explicitly addresses hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. We need to ensure that more laws are put into place to protect trans people — and that the laws that do exist are enforced.
Unfortunately to many, trans lives do not matter. We have been categorically rendered invisible by the whole of society and without legislative protection that is uniform and permanent, the murders, the suicides, the attacks, the oppression, the discrimination, the hurt, pain, suffering and trauma will undoubtedly persist.
What experience did you have with the police when you reported your attack?
The police were called and the responding police officers were very unhelpful. They were belligerent and unsympathetic and refused to arrest one of my attackers, who I had ID’ed to them (she was a few doors down continuing to hurl transphobic slurs while they were there). Furthermore, they said that by looking at my injuries, they regarded the incident as a simple assault, and as such, I had to make a private criminal complaint. At this time my husband arrived and despite our pleas to make an arrest, the responding officers left without confirming the identity of my attacker nor making any arrests. When I went to the police district, I was met with the same hostile energy from the commanding sergeant, who harassed me, trivialized my injuries, and cracked jokes with his subordinates while I bled onto the floor. Even when a representative I called in from the mayor’s office came to my aid to speak on my behalf to the sergeant, he was equally as dismissive with her. Finally, we gave up trying to get the charges enhanced and I was driven to the hospital. No one should be in a position to have to advocate on their behalf so fervently when in a state of extreme duress, but this is par for the course when it comes to trans people in just about every interpersonal issue we have to endure.
In many instances like mine, the police harm the transgender community in irreparable ways, especially in terms of investigations into the times when we are attacked and murdered, as they often misgender us in the media and on police reports and fail to put forth the same energy and effort into our cases than that of the general public. Unsurprisingly, many of our murders and attacks become unsolved mysteries, which only emboldens those who wish to attack us to target us without fear of consequence.
Why do you do advocacy work?
I do advocacy work because I feel as if my lived experience speaks to the rife mistreatment and harm that transgender people face. I have endured food insecurity, housing instability, employment discrimination and have been attacked throughout my entire life by hateful transphobic people. I’ve had to live out of my personal dignity and integrity just to survive and then have those modes of survival judged and ridiculed.
Currently, events in the transgender community have come to an unfortunate crisis and a reckoning must occur if we are to be saved from the cultural erasure currently happening to our community. People in our community have been suffering in the silence of shame and are afraid to live fully in their truths due to legitimate fears of harm and retribution. So many of us are disowned and abandoned by our friends and family when we reveal our truths. We are fired from our jobs, forced out of our communities and relegated to living on the fringes of society. I am in advocacy work to help give the people in my community a soft place to land, something that was not afforded to me when my mother pulled all support and love when she discovered I was living as a transgender woman. People both in and out of my community need to see unstoppable bravery and chutzpah in the face of relentless oppression and hate. Often, all we have is each other and we look within our own community for guidance and support.
What do you want people to know about living in these times as a trans woman? How can people help?
Living as a trans woman has its ups and downs, though what is troubling is that we have been disallowed to live an honest manifestation of our truth by intolerable transphobic individuals. Our personal journey into our gender expressions should be a celebratory experience, especially for a trans woman of color, but it is often anything but that. Our experiences as trans women are often wrought with severe barriers that are often too arduous to overcome. Living in today’s times, with rampant trans murders and unprovoked attacks, members of society have taken the opportunity to exploit our vulnerabilities and put us at even greater risk of injury, diseases and death. We are reeling from the copious disparities that the current administration has deepened in our community by rolling back LGBTQ+ protections, shamelessly seeking to allow discrimination against the transgender community and refusing to advance protective LGBTQ+ legislation.
We need people to be our allies and speak on our behalf if we are to advance in health and prosperity in our community. People can help by being cognizant of what we, as trans women, go through on a daily basis, just so we can live in our authenticity. We are not hurting anyone else by blossoming into who we are, yet somehow our existence is considered an affront to others and the reaction is to hurt and kill us. This is unacceptable and we need multiple layers of protection to endure.