The International Lesbian and Gay Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC) recently wrote a letter to the Thai government, urging Thai officials to take the rape and murder of gender-variant women and lesbians in Thailand seriously. Condemning the Thai government’s dismissive stance on fifteen murders of lesbians and gender-variant women between 2006 and 2012, IGLHRC asked the government to follow its human rights obligations by investigating the murders and related rapes, rather than writing them off as crimes of passion. Thailand is not alone in its reluctance to investigate crimes against lesbians and gender-variant women–but why is this the case, and how does it fit in with active police violence against gay men and trans women around the world?
It is important to put these cases into context. The murders, committed by family members, male partners, and strangers, are similar to the “honor killings” committed against women in other parts of the world, as well as to “corrective rape” of lesbians. These crimes of violence against women and transgender men may be perceived by the broader society, and even the government, as well as the perpetrator, as being justified and moral because the victim is violating female gender norms. In a culture where female behavior is tightly regulated, gender norm transgression may be seen as a threat so serious as to be worthy of violence in response.
I’ve often heard assertions that lesbians and trans men have it better off than gay men and trans women in societies that are particularly harsh on LGBT issues, because the typical response to female sexuality is to pretend it doesn’t exist, since women don’t matter–as opposed to male transgressions, which are seen as more dangerous. It’s true that police, government, and the public often target gay men and trans women, and that their behavior may be incomprehensible to those who see the heteronormative male ideal as the ultimate goal.
However, we can’t write off violence against lesbians and trans men. While in some cases, lesbian behavior in particular may be ignored, this is not always the case. Violence against lesbians and trans men falls into the broader context of violence against women–honor killings, in fact, are often perpetrated against women for deviant behavior that has nothing to do with lesbianism or transgender expression. Police violence against lesbians is also not unprecedented, and it may be more difficult for lesbians to report violence to police for fear that their orientation will be a factor in the police response.
Because lesbians and gender non-conforming women are a relatively small segment of the female population, there may not be enough reported instances of violence to make this problem a focus, as in Thailand, but violence against this subpopulation can easily fall under the broader rubric of violence against women. Activists working to reduce violence against women, particularly state violence, should explicitly incorporate lesbians and gender non-conforming women into analysis and advocacy, and consider homophobia and transphobia as contributing factors to the problem as a whole.