7 Transgender Women Of Color We Should Be Honoring During Pride Month
Despite rapidly increasing visibility for pride celebrations, the contributions of transgender women of color, who lay the foundation for Pride Month, frequently go unrecognized. President Obama recently recognized June as LGBT Pride Month, making him the second president — after Bill Clinton — to do so. But simultaneously, trans people, especially trans women, of color, continue to be targets of violence. The Advocate reports that nine trans women are known to have been murdered in the U.S. in 2015; this number does not include deaths that were not reported or investigated.
Visibility, as Transgender Law Center Executive Director Kris Hayashi wrote for The Huffington Post, is not always enough. Transgender people of color are disproportionately impacted by violence, homelessness, and poverty but frequently receive less coverage than white transgender people. Hayashi also cited the 2013 Hate Violence Report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), which reported that in 2013, more than half of all LGBT homicide victims were trans women of color.
Laverne Cox, the black transgender actress of Orange is the New Black fame, has also spoken out about this. Her rise to fame is a sign that times are changing, but for every transgender person who gains visibility, many more become targets of violence and hate crimes while falling off the public radar. “Most trans folks don’t have the privileges Caitlyn [Jenner] and I now have,” Cox wrote in a Tumblr post, referring to material access.
It's therefore crucial that during this Pride Month, we remember and honor the memories of the trans women of color who have died this year — and #SpeakTheirNames.
1. Lamia Beard
Lamia Beard was 30 years old when she was found with a gunshot wound in Norfolk, Virginia, on Jan. 17. Soon afterward, BuzzFeed reported police misgendered her, both in interviews and in official press statements. Misgendering is one of many forms of violence that transgender people face.
“It was kind of shocking when the murder happened, because they saw the body, and they could see she was transgender,” Beard’s sister, Kiara Parker, told BuzzFeed News. “I wondered why they called her male when they could obviously see she was a transgender woman.”
Furthermore, media outlets like The Virginian-Pilot applied a form of victim-blaming by suggesting that the death was a result of prostitution, without providing any evidence of that connection.
Following Beard's death, The Virginia Anti-Violence Project worked with Beard's family to set up a crowdfunding campaign to cover funeral expenses. According to the obituary on the funeral parlor's website, Beard was in the marching band at Lake Taylor High School until she graduated in 2002, and she had a full scholarship to Bethune-Cookman College. Beard loved to travel and sing, and she spoke French fluently.
2. Ty Underwood
Ty Underwood was 24 years old when she was fatally shot in Tyler, Texas, on Jan. 26, just a week after the death of Lamia Beard. A man who was allegedly dating Underwood in the weeks leading up to her death was charged with the murder. Despite claims from friends and supporters of Underwood that her death was a hate crime, it was not investigated as such.
According to The Advocate, Underwood was a nursing assistant who wanted to attend Kilgore College's nursing program to further her career.
“She was lovely, just a lovely person. Very real, down to earth person who didn't deserve this, did not deserve this at all,” Underwood's roommate Coy Simmons told KYTX 19.
3. Michelle (Yazmin) Vash Payne
Michelle Vash Payne was 33 years old when she was found stabbed to death in a burning apartment in the Van Nuys neighborhood of Los Angeles on Jan. 31. The next day, her boyfriend, with whom Payne shared the apartment, allegedly confessed to having murdered her after his pastor reportedly convinced him to go to police.
4. Taja Gabrielle DeJesus
Taja DeJesus was 36 years old when she was found dead in a stairwell in San Francisco's Bayview District on Feb. 1. Citing anonymous police sources, SF Weekly reported that the alleged suspect in her murder had hung himself behind a warehouse about a half mile from the crime scene.
The San Francisco Chronicle reported that although police corrected initial reports that misgendered her, they did not treat the murder as a hate crime. Her mother, Pamela DeJesus, told the Chronicle that at three years old, Taja asked her, "When do I get to grow up and be a girl?" Pamela added that her daughter volunteered at a food pantry and was active in her church.
“Whenever she had anything extra, she would give it away. That’s just how she was,” Pamela said. “I don’t know how anybody could do this. But I’m proud of how strong and selfless she was. That’s what brings me peace.”
5. Penny Proud
Penny Proud was 21 years old when she was fatally shot several times in New Orleans on Feb. 10. Following her death, New Orleans-based LGBT advocacy group BreakOUT! released a statement to reiterate that #BlackTransLivesMatter.
"These deaths had little to no mainstream media attention. The silence and lack of action from media on behalf of the Black transgender community sends a strong message that Black Trans Lives, in fact, do not matter," the statement read. "In life and death, we are all survivors."
The statement — which was already in the process of being released when BreakOUT! members received the news of Proud's death — called for media outlets to use correct names and pronouns as well as current photos to respect the dignity of trans women of color who have lost their lives.
A candlelight vigil was held for Proud at the site of her death.
6. Kristina Gomez Reinwald
Kristina Gomez Reinwald was 46 years old when she was discovered dead in her Miami home. Although initial police reports concluded that her death was a suicide, Miami authorities soon ruled that it was actually a homicide.
Reinwald was better known as Kristina Grant Infiniti, and she was a performer at Miami Beach.
Arianna Lint, the director of services at a LGBTQ nonprofit social service agency in South Florida called SunServe, told Local10 that Latina transgender women are often victims of domestic violence, and that despite never having met Reinwald, her death felt like losing a sister.
"We are survivors of a lot of cruelty and discrimination," Lint said. It takes "courage to be honest with yourself and others ... and that sometimes can cost transgender women their lives."
7. London Chanel
London Chanel was 21 years old when she was stabbed in the back and neck by a man following what a witness report described as a verbal argument in an abandoned Philadelphia home on May 18. According to Buzzfeed, local outlet NBC10 initially misgendered Chanel based on interviews with police before using the correct pronouns.
After stabbing Chanel, her attacker, along with a witness, reportedly carried her outside the house and placed her on quilts before attempting to perform CPR. When a School District of Philadelphia officer arrived on the scene, he called Philadelphia police and Chanel was rushed to the hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
"She had a heart of gold," Chanel's friend Kione Seymore told NBC10. "She hardly ever frowned. She always had a smile on her face. Her laughter was infectious ... We are trans sisters. We shared a bond no one could understand."
Veronica Allen, Chanel's mother, told NBC10 that although her daughter's transition had taken a toll on their relationship, they had reconnected in March.
“She was going to go to court to change her name and then she was going to come home," Allen said. “That’s what we were working towards, but that man took it away from me."