06/10/2014 11:38 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Does 'Tranny' Matter to a Slave?

Royce DeGrie via Getty Images

While LGBT Internet activists and news sites cover the great "tranny" debate, news from Louisiana is that a trans woman was found on the side of the road last week after allegedly having been held in slavery for months. Police in rural Louisiana found the bruised, battered, and cut-up woman wandering near an interstate, attached to a heavy metal logging chain. She reportedly had been forced into slavery, tortured, and sexually abused.

Judging by online news sites and blog posts, the LGBT community was too embroiled in a dispute over the harm (or innocence) of RuPaul's use of the word "tranny" to notice the news from South. Feelings on that issue aside, the saturating coverage and heated debate over appropriate terminology did very little, if anything, to protect our trans sister in Louisiana. In fact, the excessive coverage of the "tranny" debate helped trivialize real-world problems faced by the LGBT community -- problems that materialize as violence -- by equating violent transphobia with a drag queen's use of insensitive language.

The rise of gay marriage does not mean the decline of LGBT hate. Nearly 100 million people in the United States would criminalize homosexuality. These people are led by multi-million-dollar organizations, such as the Family Research Council, headed by people who preach that the LGBT community is "intolerant," "hateful," "vile," and "spiteful." Their anti-gay worldview is reinforced by reality-TV stars like Louisiana's Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame, who tell their followers the LGBT community is hateful, murderous, and ruthless. They get elected to public office, then use the bully pulpit to compare the LGBT community to terrorists, as Oklahoma State Rep. Sally Kern did, or equate homosexuality with incest and pedophilia, as U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Missouri) did.

Given such rhetoric, it should be no surprise that every year, thousands of these people ignore the laws that this country does have and pursue their anti-LGBT agenda by criminally attacking people they think are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender.

Especially transgender. Transgender women are the victims of more than half of all anti-LGBT hate crimes. As a Louisiana native, I'm even less surprised that people there would dehumanize and victimize a trans woman. In fact, I warned the LGBT community last December that even for a cisgender man (someone assigned "male" at birth and identifying as male), being gay in the state of Duck Dynasty is "very, very bad." Being transgender in Louisiana -- or anywhere, for that matter -- is much scarier and far more dangerous.

Transphobia is quite literally killing people. Less than a year ago Islan Nettles was walking down the street in New York City when a young man cat-called her. It appears that he then found out that Islan was trans and punched her. In front of a police station. He kept punching Islan until and after she collapsed. By the time the police found Islan and took her to the hospital, she was unconscious and unrecognizable. She was brain-dead. Then she was just dead.

Transphobia is real. It's scary. It's dangerous. And it's quite literally killing people.

The LGBT community and its allies must stand in unity against transphobes -- people who would deny our trans family their fundamental right to simply live in this world. But carelessly lobbing the "phobia" bomb at members of the LGBT family whose perspectives on the use of a word differ from our own is irresponsible and dangerous.

RuPaul is not the enemy. Neither is Carmen Carrera. The LGBT community's enemies are those 100 million people who would have our mere existence criminalized if given the chance. Our enemies are the tiny subset of those people who are willing to violate criminal laws to brutally force their worldview upon us. Our enemies are people who enslave our sisters. Alas, they are not the ones whose vitriol is splayed across the front page. Internet activists are not rallying the troops and marching on Louisiana. Rather, front pages and blogs are dedicated to determining who wins the epic battle over language choice.

Every snipe by one LGBT voice against another is a victory for the LGBT-bashing militia. And every news story or blog about RuPaul or Carmen Carrera or "tranny" or terminology is one cry for attention at the expense of shining light on violent transphobia happening throughout this country.

Labeling LGBT people transphobic for their opinions -- however wrong they may be -- on the use of the word "tranny" insults our trans bothers and sisters who have fallen prey to violence and vitriol from the real transphobes out there. If RuPaul and Heklina are transphobes, how do we classify the three people sitting in a Louisiana jail for allegedly enslaving our trans sister? If they too are transphobes, have we not trivialized their violent hate by lumping it into the same category as RuPaul's use of the word "tranny"?

Maybe there are two Americas. In one the Internet explodes when drag queens use the word "tranny." In the other it takes a week for people to notice that police had been investigating the brutalization and enslavement of a trans woman in a state where just a year ago other police were setting up sodomy stings to enforce an anti-gay law that had been unconstitutional for a decade, the same state that just this year refused to repeal the unconstitutional anti-gay law because to do so might "harm the children."

An army of hate a hundred-million-strong is marching resolutely to victory. Let the LGBT community and its allies be neither distracted by gay-marriage victories nor sidetracked by squabbling over language, lest we win small battles but lose the war for our lives.