Free clinic offering self-defense kits for transgender and non-binary clients

A Richmond-based health clinic has started offering self-defense kits to people who are often targeted for their gender expression. The public safety initiative aims to provide more resources for transgender and non-binary people.

A study from UCLA’s Williams Institute School of Law found that transgender people are more than four times more likely to experience physical assault than cisgender people.

For Leigh Guinty, moving around the world as a transgender person is dangerous. He says the feeling of being watched never goes away.

“You literally walk around with a target on your front and back every day, all day,” Guinty said.

Guinty is a transgender, non-binary person of color with Indigenous heritage. He says he survived multiple acts of violence motivated by transphobia. In those moments, he said having something to defend himself with could have made a difference.

“If I had something to protect myself with, I probably would have used it,” Guinty said.

The Health Brigade monitors violence against gender nonconforming people in the region. Earlier this month, the Richmond-based free clinic launched a pilot program that gives self-defense kits to those customers who need protection under a pilot program. The program is an extension of the Health Brigade’s approach to health care, according to Cristina Kincaid, Director of Health Outreach for the Health Brigade.

“Through having conversations with people in our reception or during ongoing case management, we realized that many of our clients … were experiencing situations where they felt unsafe or had experienced some type of violence said Kincaid.

So far, 25 kits have been assembled, funded by a donation from a local lawyer. Kincaid said they come in a shoulder bag for easy access by those in dangerous situations. Inside, customers will find a ground box, whistle, and keychain approximately 5 inches long with a blunt end and grooves to help users grip the tool.

“Providing someone with self-defense items is just another way of working with people, meeting them where they are and helping them with the things they may need in their daily lives to feel safe and hopefully healthy as well,” Kincaid says.

In Virginia, the rate of violence against transgender and non-binary people reflects national trends, according to Olivia Hunt, policy director for the National Center for Transgender Equality. A 2015 survey of more than 27,000 transgender Americans by the center shows that 9% of respondents said they had been physically assaulted for being transgender in the past year.

“The numbers for Virginia are pretty consistent with the national numbers,” Hunt said. “These numbers are significantly worse…for trans women of color and non-binary people.”

In the United States, Indigenous transgender people are the most likely to be targeted by transphobic violence, with 19% of respondents to the 2015 survey saying they had been attacked for being transgender in the past year. Fourteen percent of Middle Eastern respondents reported the same experience as 12% of multiracial and transgender people who participated in the survey.

Transgender people are also less likely to seek justice for attacks against them. Hunt said many do not report such crimes to police for fear of further mistreatment and discrimination by law enforcement.

“What we see a lot with trans people is that in addition to a much higher rate of physical assault than the general public, [they] also tend to have very negative experiences with the police,” Hunt said.

She said the survey found that in 2014, 58% of respondents who interacted with the police said they had experienced abuse, including harassment, gender error, physical assault and sexual violence.

Health Brigade clients can request a self-defense kit by meeting with their case manager.

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