My name is Monica Valadezza. and I am a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a soon to be wife. I am a Latina woman who immigrated from Mexico to the United states. I reached the American dream of becoming an American citizen in 2002. I also happen to be transgender.

Today, I testified in front of the Senate Public Policy Committee at the Indiana Statehouse. As our legislators look to pass a Hate Crimes bill in Indiana, there has been talk of not including one of the most vulnerable classes in our society – individuals who are transgender and gender non-conforming. The purpose of listing protected classes in any civil rights law is to make sure that those who are targeted by discrimination and are most vulnerable, are protected. That is why, if a Hate Crimes bill is passed in Indiana, it must include gender identity as a protected class. 

As a little child, I grew up pledging allegiance to the American flag and learned in school that everyone is created equal and that everyone has rights in this country. That includes transgender people like me. Like everyone else, I am to believe that my adoptive country, my government, grants me full protections and equal rights as a citizen as described under our Constitution.

As a child, I questioned my gender at birth. In my teens I discovered my true gender identity and transitioned to the woman who I’ve become. This journey is not easy. Nor is it easy for the millions of transgender Americans who, to this day, are victims of harassment, abuse, violence, discrimination and sadly even death.

I am an American citizen who is trans, who is a survivor and a child of God. Ultimately, a human being just like you. I have been a victim of assault. A gun has been pulled on me but I was able to get away. I have also been a victim of physical assault and sexual assault. I am lucky to be alive.

Not many transgender individuals are able to say that they are survivors. Their lives are often abruptly taken away because of fear, hatred, and rejection by a society that doesn’t understand transgender people like me. 

That was the case for Nireah Johnson, an African American woman who was murdered in Indianapolis by a man who was sexually attracted to her and then discovered that she was transgender. He also murdered her friend, Brandie Coleman. Both bodies were found burned in their vehicle.

That was also the case for Ashley (Michelle) Sherman, a black trans woman, found dead with a gunshot wound to the head in Indianapolis in 2014.

Last year 29 transgender people were murdered for being who they are, and the violence is getting worse. These leave behind devastated friends, families and shattered memories of those abruptly taken away. Yet legislators continue to consider omitting transgender individuals from the list of protected classes in the hate crimes bill.

We are people. Real human beings who deserve the same protections from hateful violence as everyone else. Transgender Hoosiers are not second-class citizens. Ultimately, we all children of God.

When you think of transgender people, think of me. Think of Nireah Johnson, of Ashley Michelle Sherman, and my other trans friends here with me, as people, as Hoosiers, because at the end of the day we belong here too.

Whenever there is a law that protects people from hateful violence, we must not forget transgender individuals.

Don’t forget us.