#KeishaJenkins: Why We Must Address Trans Issues Now

By Veronica Agard

In a dynamic time of #BlackLivesMatter, the conversations around the violence inflicted upon Black bodies have been become more and more prevalent. However, despite the fact that the intention of the founders of #BlackLivesMatter was to always be inclusive of all Black lives, that has not completely translated to the movement. We’ve already seen examples of openly hostile and homophobic behavior of Black cisgendered men in the form of “Straight Black Pride.” This type of violence within the movement is only one example of what is the daily experience for trans and gender nonconforming people.

2015 has been a year marred by violence, and this pain is palpable when discussing the number of Black trans women who have been murdered. Most recently, the life of Kiesha Jenkins was taken in Philadelphia, making her the 20th trans woman to be killed in the United States this year. In the wee hours of the morning, Kiesha was allegedly approached by six men who proceeded to savagely beat her. At the height of the attack, one of her assailants pulled out a gun and shot her in the back, a move that ended her life despite the efforts of first responders.

In the days that followed, more information on Kiesha’s death has left her community with lingering questions. Therefore, when the news broke that the police were investigating the possibilities that Kiesha was being robbed or partaking in a solicitation deal gone wrong, advocates rightfully cried fowl. The only thing “robbed” in this tragic situation was Kiesha’s life and the hesitation of the Philadelphia Police Department to pursue this as a hate crime. This is troubling. This (lack of) action can set in motion an incomplete form of justice and would only be a reflection of a system that failed her in life as well as in death.

As of Oct. 12th, one of her attackers had been arrested and three more are being sought. The police have set up a $20,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of her other attackers, yet in spite of this, I fear what is to come. I am fearful because of the intentional lack of dialogue around Black trans lives outside of queer communities. I am fearful of my fellow Black cisgendered women who do not see the necessity of amplifying and centering the work of trans sisters who push back against this system and are always present at vigils for Rekia Boyd and Aiyana Stanley-Jones. I am fearful because we, myself included, do not consistently show up for Black trans women when their lives are taken for us. But what can we do to combat this?

Vital work has been done to (re)centralize Black queer voices in the movement and address the lack of visibility for trans and gender nonconforming people. When BYP100 called for a National Day of Action for Black Women and Girls, organizers around the country hosted actions for #BlackTransLiberationTuesday. Organizers in New York captured the moment and not only called out Black cisgendered people on their complicitness in the erasure of trans lives in the #BlackLivesMatter movement but also gave us tangible actions and steps to reshape the ways in which we engage in movement work.

But as the number of murders continue to rise, now more than ever is when we have to start showing up on all levels if we ever hope to truly consider ourselves as comrades in the struggle. Looking forward, we have to start having honest conversations about the erasures of trans lives from our conversations on Black Lives Matter. We must be prepared to be made uncomfortable when called out on our complicitness and lack of action because our sisters (not just our cis-ters) are dying.

Photo: Facebook

Veronica Agard is a regular contributor at For Harriet. Thriving in Harlem, she is a Program Associate at Humanity in Action, a City College of New York graduate and a Transnational Black Feminist with the Sister Circle Collective. She tweets at @veraicon_.

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