Transmissions: The Long, Hot Summer

By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
Originally printed 7/24/2014 (Issue 2230 - Between The Lines News)

On the 3rd of June, the body of Kandy Hall, a 40-year-old transgender woman of color, was discovered in a field on the northeast side of Baltimore. While the police have been tight-lipped with details, we know that she was stabbed, and her body experienced severe trauma.

A week or so later, on the 12th of June, Zoraida Reyes' body was found behind a Dairy Queen in Anaheim, California. The 20-year-old Hispanic transwoman was a local activist. There were no signs of foul play, but her death is still being investigated as suspicious.

Another week passed, and on the 19th of June, Yaz'min Shancez, a 31-year-old transwoman of color known to her friends as "Miss T," was found burnt to death. Her body was disposed of behind a dumpster at a Budget Truck Rental in Fort Meyers, Florida. Police are investigating it as a homicide, but are not considering it a hate crime yet.

One more week, one more death: on the 26th of June, Tiff Edwards, a 28-year-old transwoman of color, was found dead. She was discovered in the middle of the road by a sanitation worker in Walnut Hills, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati. She was shot to death.

Most recently, on the 16th of July, the body of 26-year-old Mia Henderson was found on the Northwest side of Baltimore. Like Kandy Hall, Henderson was a transwoman of color. Her murder also bore other similarities to that of Hall - although police are not yet ready to directly connect the two murders.

That's five transgender deaths in just a bit more than a month. Four of them have been declared homicides, and it sounds like the fifth is as well. All are transgender women of color.

I want to be more shocked by it all, but I also know that this is not nearly as uncommon as it should be. I'm sure there were plenty of others between the 3rd of June and the 16th of July - particularly outside of the United States.

All of these women ended up dead and discarded. They were tossed behind a dumpster, left in middle of the street or dumped in a field. Whoever was responsible for these deaths had little respect for their victims in death and clearly had no respect for their lives.

Over the last few months, we have seen transgender visibility explored. Actress Laverne Cox, a recurring cast member of the hit show "Orange is the New Black," has been spotted on the cover of TIME magazine and is currently nominated for an Emmy. Janet Mock has topped the New York Times bestseller list with her autobiography "Redefining Realness." All of a sudden we're seen everywhere.

Yet even with this visibility, we're still dying at an alarming rate - and while all transgender people are affected by anti-transgender violence, we cannot ignore that the most vulnerable among us are transwomen of color.

Meanwhile, the mainstream transgender community is focused elsewhere. We are still arguing over the use of a term that is alternately an anti-transgender slur and a term of affection. Some have taken this argument into even further toxic territory, claiming one group is focused on "victimhood" while others are turning it into a generational battle between transgender activists of the 1990s versus those of today.

There's more, too. We're also in the midst of scores of cross-community and intersectionality issues facing the transgender community and its allies. This column is just too short to delve deep into the many types of mire we are stuck within.

What is important to me is this: none of those arguments saved a single one of the lives listed above. Indeed, they seem to only keep us distracted and provide additional fuel for those who seek to harm us.

We urgently need to look at what we are doing to each other. We need to learn to focus on what is important here. Can we get outraged over who said what about whom? Sure, I suppose. Can we argue about who said what to whom? Why yes, if that flips your switches.

But we need to look beyond all of this. We need to consider that what someone calls us is irrelevant in the face of death. We need to worry less about how one should be a transgender advocate and more about doing the work. We need to educate our allies and help them help us - not automatically slap their hands away.

There could be someone in Baltimore that is targeting transgender people.

An up and coming activist in and around Orange County, California was found dead and the police aren't willing to call it a homicide.

Another transwoman is dead in Ohio, one of many killed over the last few years.

A transgender Floridian was burnt to death and tossed behind a dumpster, yet police aren't willing to classify this as a hate crime.

Five more transgender people get to be honored in November at the Transgender Day of Remembrance - five more out of hundreds.

This is what we should be outraged at. This is what we should be focused on. We need to amplify the voices and the needs of our transwomen of color, we need to speak out about their deaths and we need to look for ways to avoid it happening all over again.

It's a long, hot summer - and it's only half way over. It's time for us all to move forward, and it's time for us to all get to work.

Gwen Smith is really, really tired of death. You can find her at
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