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Your Take: LGBT-rights advocates urge the DOJ to investigate the killings of black transgender women.
On Aug. 14 Tiffany Gooden, 19, a black transgender woman, was stabbed to death on Chicago’s West Side. She was found dead just three blocks from where Paige Clay, 23, another black transgender woman, was discovered in April with a gunshot wound to the head. Just four days after Gooden’s killing, Kendall L. Hampton, 26, also a transgender woman, was shot in the parking lot of a Dairy Mart in Cincinnati.
Their murders are jarring reminders of the injustice that transgender women of color face. In fact, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (pdf) has reported that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has increased 23 percent from 2009 to 2010, with people of color and transgender women as the most common victims. Of the victims murdered in 2010, 70 percent were people of color, while 44 percent were transgender women.
“Stop killing and beating down my family,” says Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “As a mother, sister and advocate, I am deeply troubled by the violence that plagues our trans sisters. I’m even more saddened by our level of indifference and inaction. Where is the outcry?”
The black and civil rights communities are shamefully silent when victims of violence are black and transgender. That is why the NBJC, the nation’s leading black LGBT civil rights organization; the Hip Hop Caucus, a civil and human rights organization that aims to promote political activism for young U.S. voters, using hip-hop music and culture; and the Trans People of Color Coalition, a national social-justice organization that promotes the interests of transgender people of color, are calling on the Department of Justice to establish a special task force to investigate the serial and systemic murders of countless transgender women of color who are attacked for living their truth. These groups are urging all civil rights leaders and community members to join their appeal to consciousness and action.
In fact, more than 200 black LGBT leaders, activists and allies will gather Sept. 19-22 in Washington, D.C., for the NBJC’s third annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit. Along with compelling briefings, a Black LGBT Leaders Day at the White House, Lobbying Day and meetings with members of Congress, OUT on the Hill will convene a groundbreaking panel (pdf) of black transgender women and advocates to address the epidemic of murders against this segment of the black community.
Stories like Gooden’s and Hampton’s represent a larger system of violence toward black transgender women. Their cases are part of an ongoing string of violence and mass murders against transgender women of color. “I want you to meet my family,” says Lettman-Hicks when she recalls the litany of black transgender women who have been killed within the last year. “We should intimately know all these women’s names and their stories.”
In Oakland, Calif., Brandy Martell, 37, was shot on April 29 in her genitals and then her chest after sharing that she was transgender. Coko Williams, another transgender woman of color, was found dead in April on a Detroit block with her throat slashed and one bullet wound. Deoni Jones, 22, a transgender woman, was fatally stabbed on Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C. An altercation between the victim and her attacker broke out at the bus stop, which resulted in the victim being stabbed in the face.
In November 2011, family, friends and community members mourned the loss of Shelley Hilliard, 19, a transgender woman who was reported missing. Weeks later, police were able to identify a burned torso found on Detroit’s East Side as belonging to Hilliard, who was also known as Treasure. Lashai Mclean, 23, a transgender woman, was tragically shot and killed last July in Washington, D.C. Mclean was with another transgender woman in the very early morning when she was gunned down in the District’s Northeast section. She was pronounced dead shortly after being transported to a local hospital.
And those are just some of the attacks we know of. Many more go unreported and garner little to no media attention. Aug. 12 marked the 10-year anniversary of the deaths of Ukea Davis and Stephanie Thomas, two transgender teenagers who were murdered execution style in Washington, D.C. Each of them was shot 10 times in the head and upper body.
By the time medical rescue workers arrived at the corner of 50th and C streets SE, both victims were dead. They died at the same corner where Tyra Hunter, another African-American transgender woman, lay dying after a car crash in 1995 as fire department medical technicians laughed and withdrew emergency care upon discovering that she was transgender.
Davis’ and Thomas’ murders remain unsolved.
“I’m appalled at how little has been done by the black and civil rights communities to fight for and protect transgender women,” says the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. “It’s time to break our silence and mobilize the way we did for Occupy Wall Street and Trayvon Martin.”
Some mobilization has been taking place within the black LGBT community. For instance, the TransFaith in Color Conference, an empowerment-and-networking summit for transgender people of color and their allies, recently took place in Charlotte, N.C.
But the black LGBT community cannot and should not have to do this work alone. When transgender women do fight back in an attempt to defend themselves, they risk being criminalized by a system that doesn’t have their best interests in mind. A system that has for centuries ravaged communities of color. A system we must all challenge.
Take CeCe McDonald, for instance, a black transgender hate-crime survivor currently being housed in a men’s facility. After being verbally and physically assaulted, McDonald fatally stabbed her attacker in alleged self-defense. She later accepted a plea deal to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 41 months in a male prison, where she will be subjected to physical and sexual assault — a blatant example of institutional biases against black and transgender people.
“It is unfortunate that in CeCe’s case, as in so many, the hate crime itself was overlooked entirely,” explains Kylar Broadus, executive director of the Trans People of Color Coalition, an NBJC board member and the first transgender person to testify before the Senate about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. “On top of blaming and prosecuting the victim, she is placed in harm’s way once again. We won’t rest until there is justice for our fallen black trans sisters who are disproportionally targeted and killed because of who they are. We won’t rest until there is justice for CeCe, Tiffany, Kendall, Ukea and Stephanie.”
Enough is enough. We must speak up and speak out. Now. How will you ensure that our family is not forgotten? Learn more about the upcoming OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit here. It’s time to come together and own our collective power.
(Kimberley McLeod, The Root)
Kimberley McLeod is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer and LGBT advocate. She is director of communications and press secretary at the National Black Justice Coalition, as well as creator and editor of Elixher.com, a resource for multidimensional representations of black LGBT women.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.