Dear readers, today I am quite sad. Normally, this would be a good thing, as I struggle with emotions in general thanks to the abuse I dealt with growing up. However, today it’s not a good thing, because of the cause of this sadness. We’ve had far too many murders of trans women of color already this year. Now, I say this every year at TDoR that one murder is too many, but we’ve already had five (some would say six) in the first five weeks of the year. And that’s just trans women of color, it doesn’t include trans men or white trans women. That’s also just here in the States, not including all murders internationally. Even worse, as we’re in the height of movements such as Black Lives Matter, these murders have largely gone unreported, glossed over by major media in favor of more sensational news. Sadly, this shows that even those who support the Black Lives Matter movement don’t always care about ALL black lives. So who are/were these five/six people that the major media outlets have largely ignored?
The first victim was Lamia Beard, a 30 year old trans woman in Virginia. This hits even closer to home for me, not just because of the proximity, but also because of her age. I never expected to live to see 30, and I’m 30 now. On top of that, a study a few years ago stated that “[t]ransgender people have an average life expectancy of about 30 to 32 years,” due to the high rates of murder, suicide, and homelessness/drug use world wide. Lamia almost made it out of that range, beating the odds, and then this. This is why I’m still afraid of people, and why I always carry multiple weapons of self defense (pepper spray, stun gun, etc.) on my person whenever I go out. She was shot out in the streets, but died in the hospital later.
The second victim, Ty Underwood, was murdered less than two weeks later. This happened in Tyler, Texas, a town just southwest of Dallas. So while I’m in Georgia now, this also hits close to home for me, as the Dallas area was my home for a couple years until just a few months ago. She was murdered by the man she was dating (allegedly, he hasn’t been convicted but police claim to have a “mountain of evidence”), making this look like it will be a trans panic defense case. For those who don’t know, California is the only state in the Union that does not allow for the trans panic defense, and it took them until just this last September to ban it! She was found dead in her car with numerous bullet wounds, though it is unclear from what I’ve read if she was shot before getting in the car, or after the accident. It’s possible she was shot in her or her boyfriend’s home!
The third victim this year was Lamar Edwards. While Lamar identified as a gay man, not a trans woman, I’m including him here for a couple reasons. The first is that he did drag, and by many definitions, that makes him transgender, if not a transsexual woman. Second, when his murder was first reported, it was announced as another trans woman murder, with the picture most commonly shown being him in drag with a wig. Third, the police are not disclosing at this time if he was presenting as female or not at the time that he was murdered, leading to the possibility that he was murdered for “being a man in a dress.” So while he’s not a trans woman of color, he is still in some ways a trans feminine person of color, and the reporting following his murder highlighted many of the issues that transgender people face in the media, whether murdered, defending themselves, or any other reason. That problem is the media jumping to assumptions, often misgendering and using wrong names and pronouns. All three of these individuals were shot, and in the case of Ty, it seems that she was trying to flee in her car until she crashed into something. Sadly, the murders become worse from here.
The third trans woman, fourth victim, was Yazmin Payne, a trans woman in Los Angeles. Like Ty Underwood, Yazmin was murdered by her boyfriend, and like Ty, her murder was not a pretty one. She was stabbed to death, and then set on fire (or the apartment was, I can’t seem to find a clear source on what was lit, but she was found by firefighters responding to a fire in the home) in her own apartment. Her boyfriend later turned himself in to the police, but this is still a terribly sad story, and one that is horrific. And this was still in January!
The very next day, on the morning of the 1st of February, Taja Gabrielle DeJesus was stabbed to death. Her case is one that stands out from the others for a few reasons. First, she was the only one of the group who was not black, as she was a Latina. Second, this happened in that Mecca of queerness, San Fransisco. However, one similarity here is that like Lamia and possibly Ty, she was murdered publicly, her body being found in a stairwell. She was an activist and volunteer with the local trans community, and her death highlights that even in places that are bastions of queer rights and power, trans people aren’t necessarily protected.
The most recent murder, earlier this week, was that of Penny Proud. She was also fatally shot, and like Lamia, she was out in public on the streets when it happened. Like Ty Underwood, this was not a single bullet, rather she was shot multiple times. In fact, the only trans woman on this list who WASN’T shot/stabbed multiple times was Lamia, who received only a single bullet wound. Likewise, Lamar received only a single bullet wound. The murders of Penny Proud, Yazmin Payne, Taja DeJesus, and Ty Underwood involved severe damage being done to them, showing that these weren’t some accidental murders, they were passionate, violent responses to trans women even existing.
I know I said I was going to get into Laverne Cox today, but honestly this takes precedence. However, she did address some issues along these lines in her speech. No, she did not specifically discuss these murders, but she did cite the old Injustice at Every Turn study and its findings regarding the mistreatment of trans people, particularly trans women, ESPECIALLY trans women of color. However, things she did not mention were the fact that there were a couple of shocking statistics from 2013 that highlight just how bad things are. The first of these was a finding that transgender people are murdered at a rate of approximately 50% more than gays and lesbians. This was found from statistics of the Americas that showed that just in the month of July 2013, 49 LGBT individuals were murdered, 23 of whom were transgender. To put that in perspective, here in the States, just 0.3 percent of the population is openly trans, while 3.5 percent are openly gay/lesbian. There is some overlap in those numbers, of course, but that’s still disturbing that gay/lesbian people outnumber us six-to-one, but we’re being killed at rates 50% higher than them.
The other set of shocking statistics come from the reports of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). In 2013, they documented 18 cases of LGBT homicide here in the States. However, among those 18, almost 90% of them were people of color, almost three-quarters (72%) were trans women, and two-thirds (67%) were trans women of color. To put this into perspective with today, that’s 18 murders, 16 were people of color, 13 were trans women, and 12 were trans women of color. Last year, there were another 12 cases of trans women of color being murdered that the NCAVP responded to. We’re only six weeks into the new year and we have FIVE trans women of color murdered. So much for this being the “year of transgender” or some such nonsense.