The Elusiveness of Self-Defense for the Black Transgender Community

16 Pages Posted: 17 Sep 2020

See all articles by Shawn Fields

Shawn Fields

Campbell University - Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law

Date Written: September 8, 2020


This Essay was written as a part of the Nevada Law Journal's symposium on Race and Gender and Policing. It explores the need for but elusiveness of self-defense as a viable affirmative defense for Black transgender victims of crime. The Black transgender community suffers disproportionate rates of intimate partner violence, discriminatory harassment, and sexual violence from both strangers and acquaintances. Yet members of this community also report disproportionate rates of ambivalence, discriminatory treatment, and physical violence from law enforcement investigating these crimes. Black transgender individuals experience under-policing driven by stereotyped attitudes that transgender individuals are inherently "deceitful" or that transgender women are "actually men" and can handle themselves. And they experience over-policing for "walking while trans," a widely reported phenomenon wherein transgender individuals walking in public are repeatedly targeted for suspected prostitution. Within this reality of violence and under protection, many members of the Black transgender community report resorting to self-defense tactics to protect themselves, including carrying firearms in public.

Unfortunately, recent high profile cases of Black transgender self-defense illustrate that viable affirmative self-defense claims prove elusive for this community. Racist biases about the inherent criminality of Black individuals infect every step of the criminal justice process, negating otherwise viable self-defense claims. Moreover, many of the same trans-phobic attitudes affecting the criminal investigative process similarly impact the viability of self-defense claims for transgender individuals using self-defensive measures as a necessary last resort.

Keywords: Self-Defense, Transgender, Firearms, Stand Your Ground, Race, Racism, LGBTQ, Trans-Phobia, Walking While Trans, Sexual Violence, Intimate Partner Violence

Suggested Citation

Fields, Shawn, The Elusiveness of Self-Defense for the Black Transgender Community (September 8, 2020). Nevada Law Journal, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN: or

Shawn Fields (Contact Author)

Campbell University - Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law ( email )

225 Hillsborough Street
Raleigh, NC 27603
United States

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