We Speak Their Names: For the Black Trans Women Murdered This Year

by Kesiena Boom

Yaz’Min Shancez (pictured above), nicknamed ‘Miss T’ by her loved ones, was 31 years old when she was brutally killed in Fort Myers, Florida. Her body was then set alight and dumped behind a garbage bin where it was discovered on the 19th of June. Her family described her as a woman who was ‘full of life’ and ‘didn’t deserve to go out like that.’
Photo Credit: Henderson/Facebook

Mia Henderson, was a woman ‘comfortable in [her] own skin’ according to her brother, noted basketball player Reggie Bullock of the L.A. Clippers. She was only 26 years old when she was found murdered in Baltimore’s westside with signs of ‘severe physical trauma’ to her body.

Kandy Hall of Northeast Baltimore was found dead in a field on the 3rd of June. She was just 40 years old. At a memorial service held for her and Mia Henderson in August, a local trans woman Tona Brown was quoted as saying “Everyone is rejoicing in the lives of these women...We are just like everyone else. We are mourning the lives of our sisters. I didn't know them personally, but it could have easily been myself."

Tiffany Edwards was 28 years old when her lifeless body was happened upon by a sanitation worker in Cincinnati, Ohio on the 26th of June. Edwards’ aunt told WLWT-TV, “Tiffany was Tiffany. Our family accepted Tiffany for Tiffany. … Tiffany was love. Tiffany gave love”.

Ashley Sherman was shot in the head at the age of 25. Her body was discovered by a housing complex in Indianapolis, IN. A hundred people came to a vigil in her honor at which her mother implored her daughter’s killer to turn themselves in.

This loss of life is sickening and it shows no signs of abating. Even in death these women are not allowed their dignity. Reporting on their murders was rife with misgendering, mentioning of irrelevant and offensive details and use of the women’s birth names. Cisgender reporters need to do so much better when discussing trans women. The perpetuation of transphobic language is inexcusable and has real world consequences. It leads to the dhumanizationof trans people which contributes to a society in which the above murders proliferate to widespread apathy. GLAAD have a simple guide to covering stories featuring transgender people and it absolutely must be heeded. No excuses. No exceptions. Our Black sisters deserve respect.

It is not just the straight and cisgender community who have to do so much better in acknowledging the humanity of trans women. LGBTQ activism is often just focused on the LGB in actuality. The movement has been co-opted, whitewashed and de-radicalised. It was blazingly brave Black trans women such as Marsha P. Johnson who ignited the infamous Stonewall riots in 1969 that kicked off the modern day LGBTQ rights movement. The queer rights campaigning of the present day that centres around palatability, heteronormativity and marriage equality is a pale (pun intended) imitation of the original spirit of LGBTQ people’s fights for rights and recognition. In an Elixher article from September of this year, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, community icon and Executive Director of the TGI Justice Project is quoted as saying:

“As an elder in the Black trans community I have befriended, loved and then buried too many of my trans sisters over the decades due to hate based violence ... Half of us are unjustly gone and yet we still can't get the powers that be to call out this terrorism for what it is. In reality, Stonewall was a revolutionary riot in response to extreme brutality, not a whitewashed basket of happy rainbows or vanilla flavored wedding cake. Jim Crow is not dead; it just has a new mask.”

The truth is that Black trans women languish at the very bottom of social hierarchies. According to GLAAD “Transgender people face high levels of discrimination and poverty. According to the largest national survey of transgender people, the community experiences unemployment at twice the rate of the general population, with rates for people of color up to four times the national unemployment rate. Transgender people are four times more likely to live in poverty. Ninety percent of trans people report experiencing harassment, mistreatment or discrimination on the job. Forty-one percent of respondents reported attempting suicide, compared to 1.6% of the general population. More statistics from this survey may be found here.”

Patriarchy, racism and transphobia, and classism combine in deadly force and prevent many Black trans women from obtaining the kind of secure housing, education, healthcare and protection that keeps one’s life relatively free from violence. In lieu of societal support, many Black trans women are forced onto the streets and into risky ways of making money which contributes to their devastatingly high mortality rate.

Black trans women are organising though, they are rallying together for a better world for themselves and their sisters. For example, “Black Trans Women’s Lives Matter, a national call for peace, is a social justice campaign drawing attention to America’s epidemic of male violence and hate crime murders targeting African American young girls and women in the transsexual and transgender communities,” a statement from organizers of that campaign says. “We aim to defend our sisters from the misogynistic, transphobic and racist forces that fuel our oppression and to challenge the discriminatory laws and unjust courts that often fail us.”

The Transgender Day of Remembrance, is held annually on the 20th of November and commemorates the lives of those who have been victims of transphobic violence in the previous year. I encourage all Black people, regardless of gender to find an event near them later this month and to pay their respects to the Black trans women who we have lost from our communities in 2014.There is no black power until it includes us all, cisgender, transgender, lesbian, straight, gay, bisexual, pansexual, asexual, queer and all the other myriad of ways that we as humans express our identities. The ignorant and cruel and callous bile that spills from people’s mouths against our trans sisters only causes real harm. If you speak anti trans sentiment you are contributing to a culture that actively devalues trans women and then disposes of them and there is blood on your hands. It's time to stop with the hatred, Black trans women are our sisters and they deserve our respect and our help and we are stronger together.

Kesiena Boom is a Black lesbian feminist and writer who adores Audre Lorde, sisterhood and the sociology of sexuality. She is twenty years old and also writes for Autostraddle.com.

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