On July 30, 2019, Tracy Single, a 22-year-old transgender woman, was found dead at a gas station. It took nearly 2 weeks for law enforcement and local LGBTQ+ activists to identify her. A month later, her boyfriend was charged with her murder.
At the time, Tracy was the 15th trans woman of color and the 16th transgender person who had "died by violent means" just in 2019.
Tracy had just threatened to end her relationship with her 25-year-old boyfriend, Joshua Bourgeois, hours before she was found shot to death.
THE VICTIMS OF 2019
Sadly, Tracy Single is just one of so many trans men and women who were targeted and killed because of who they are. In 2019, at least 27 transgender or gender non-conforming people were killed by a gunshot, or another type of violence. Here are their names.
Dana Martin, a black transgender woman, age 31. Fatally shot in Montgomery, Alabama. "She was a person that was loved by many."
Ellie Marie Washtock, a gender non-conforming person, age 38. Fatally shot in St. Augustine, Florida. They had 2 children. "You are loved forever."
Ashanti Carmon, a black transgender woman, age 27. She was fatally shot in Prince George's County, Maryland. "She did not deserve to leave this Earth so early."
Claire Legato, a black transgender woman, age 21. She was fatally shot in Cleveland, Ohio. She was "full of life".
Muhlaysia Booker, a black transgender woman, age 23. She was fatally shot in Dallas, Texas. "A beautiful spirit taken too soon."
Michelle 'Tamika' Washington, a black transgender woman, age 40. She was fatally shot in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Remembered as a beloved sister and "gay mother".
Paris Cameron, a black transgender woman, age 20. Fatally shot in an anti-LGBTQ+ shooting in Detroit, Michigan that took the lives of 3, including 2 gay men.
Titi Gulley, a black transgender woman, age 31. She was killed in Portland, Oregon. Her death is being investigated, as it was initally reported as a suicide.
Chynal Lindsey, a black transgender woman, age 26. She was found dead in Dallas, Texas, with signs of "homicidal violence". She was "a person I had never seen mad".
Chanel Scurlock, a black transgender woman, age 23. She was fatally shot in Lumberton, North Carolina. "You lived your life as you wanted."
Zoe Spears, a black transgender woman, age 23. She was found with signs of violent trauma in Fairmount Heights, Maryland. "Verybright and full of life".
Brooklyn Lindsey, a black transgender woman, age 32. She was found killed in Kansas City, Missouri. "I shall live for you," her friend said.
Denali Berries Stuckey, a black transgender woman, age 29. She was fatally shot in North Charleston, South Carolina. "I love you so much," wrote her cousin.
Tracy Single, a black transgender woman, age 22. She was fatally shot in Houston, Texas. "You were taken from us way too soon."
Bubba Walker, a black transgender woman, age 55. Killed in Charlotte, North Carolina. "She was very kind and she loved helping people."
Kiki Fantroy, a black transgender woman, age 21. She was fatally shot in Miami, Florida. She had a "heart of gold".
Jordan Cofer, 22, who was only out to a few close friends, was fatally shot in the mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio. "He tried to give the best to everyone."
Pebbles LaDime Doe, a black transgender woman, age 24. She was killed in Allendale County, South Carolina. She was the "best to be around".
Bailey Reeves, a black transgender teen, 17. She was fatally shot in Baltimore, Maryland. She "lived her life to the fullest".
Bee Love Slater, 23, was killed in Clewiston, Florida. They are remembered for their "really, really sweet heart".
Jamagio Jamar Berryman, a black gender non-conforming person, age 30. They were killed in Kansas City, Kansas. Local activists and loved ones gathered to mourn their loss.
Itali Marlowe, a black transgender woman, age 29. She was fatally shot in Houston, Texas. She "celebrated her real self".
Brianna BB Hill, 30, was fatally shot in Kansas City. She was a beloved community member and was a fan of Kansas City sports.
Nikki Kuhnhausen, 17, was killed in Vancouver, Washington. "You my dear didn't deserve this".
Yahira Nesby, a black transgender woman, age 33. She was fatally shot in New York. She was "genuinely good people".
Mia Perry, a transgender woman, was killed in Washington, D.C.
Layleen Polanco, 27, was found dead in her Riker's Island cell. She was a "generous human being".
These people were more than just their race or their sexual identity. They were daughters, friends, parents, activists. They were kind and funny and generous and bold and did not deserve to die for being who they are. No one does.
VIOLENCE AGAINST THE TRANSGENDER COMMUNITY
Now, as of July 14, 2020, 21 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed, making it the most violent year for this vulnerable community since the tracking began in 2013. According to the Human Rights Campaign, "transgender and gender non-conforming people face a heightened risk of fatal violence, and Black transgender women are especially vulnerable because of a toxic mix of transphobia, racism, and misogyny."
The perpetrators of these hate crimes differ in the relationship to the victim: some acquaintances, some strangers, some romantic partners. Some have been identified and charged, while others haven't even been found. Though a majority of those killed are black transgender women, trans and gender non-conforming people of all races are targeted. Some are at a higher risk because their sexual identity lead them to unemployment, poverty, homelessness, and/or survival sex work, according to the HRC.
Beyond the outright violence against this community, the micro-violence against them often does not end with their death. Local police reports and media statements may misgender the victim, which leads to a delay in the accuracy of violence against the trans community.
Perhaps part of the reason violence against trans people, and the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, is so rampant is because... we let it. Take, for instance, the "LGBTQ+ panic defense", a legal strategy in which the defense argues that the violence or even murder against an LGBTQ+ person is warranted because they may "panic" and lose control, resulting in an assault. For instance, if one found out their date was a transgender woman and that person killed their date, the defense might argue that the shock at finding out such a fact lead them to act violently.
This defense is used in 3 ways. First, they may argue that the sexual orientation or gender identify of the victim lead to such a nervous breakdown that it triggered "panic". The second is provocation, wherein one argues that the victim's "non-violent sexual advance" was so provocative to the perpetrator that the defendant just had to kill the victim. (Note: such a sexual advance coming from a straight person would not be seen as illegal or harmful in any way.) And lastly, they may use the panic as a self defense, essentially arguing that the person's sexual preferences or gender identify make them a threat to the perpetrator's safety.
Right now, the LGBTQ+ "panic" defense is banned in 11 states, and legislation has been introduced, but not passed, in 8 more states and the District of Columbia. Meaning, right now, in 2020, in 39 states, a defense team could argue that the reason their defendant killed a LGBTQ+ victim is because they "panicked" due to their sexual orientation or gender identity.
But here's the thing: someone's sexuality should never trigger violence, and ESPECIALLY not murder. If you are a straight man who is hit on by a gay man, you can ignore it. You can be annoyed. Hell, legally, you can be enraged or disgusted. But such an act is absolutely not, in any way, a defense for violence. If you go on a date with a trans woman and, once you get back to your place, find out she is trans, you can continue your date as planned for one, but again, legally, you can get mad. You can throw her out or delete her number. But finding out about somebody's gender identity is not a defense for violence.
How can we argue that we value all lives, especially those of LGBTQ+ folks, and still allow such a defense to exist? Its very existence is proof that we believe their lives matter less than the lives of straight people. It is horrific.
If you look at the list of victims, such a high percentage of them are black, trans women, just like Tracy Single. They exist in a triangle of things people hate: trans people, black people, and women, and thus, they are killed at such a significantly higher rate. A racist, transphobic misogynist isn't hard to come by. And if confronted by one person who embodies 3 of the things they disagree with to a point of hate, violence can easily ensue. These women are being targeted simply because of who they are. Their blackness, transness and femininity are a threat to straight, white men.
It is only the end of July, and 21 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed in the United States. In 2019, 2017 were killed in all 12 months. This is shaping up to be the most dangerous year in recent history to be transgender. We are supposed to be progressing, becoming a better, safer place for all Americans as the years go on. But that is not the case for this community. And it is hard to say if it is because we don't know an epidemic is happening around us, or because we just don't care.
As long as we continue to see trans folks as "other" - trans "women" just being men dressed up as women and vice versa, there will always be a target on their backs. If we see them as mentally ill gender-imposters instead of human beings, it is easier to justify violence against them. This isn't to say "I don't see transness" or something, as it is important to understand the nuanced existence of trans and gender non-conforming people, but it is to say that we should see those differences and celebrate them instead of using them to put trans people in a box separate from cis-gendered people.
I don't know how to end homophobia or transphobia or, to put it more accurately, out and out hate against these groups of people. But I do know that adjusting legislation to ensure that someone's sexual orientation or gender identity cannot be used as justifications for violence will help. I know that allies stepping up and speaking out, and treating trans people with the equality of everyone else will limit the stigma around the trans community. And I think that bringing light to this issue and ensuring everyone knows that violence against transgender people, specifically black, transgender women, is a genuine epidemic in this country will help to start the fight against it.
2020 is shaping up to be the most violent year for trans people. We must, absolutely must, turn the ship around. We are supposed to be growing and changing and bettering ourselves, but those strides can't be celebrated if every year we are leaving more and more black trans women behind.
We must ensure black trans women are included in our fight for equality and justice.