Community members across the Carolinas will pause in remembrance of lost life this month, marking the International Transgender Day of Remembrance on Nov. 21.
Reports from anti-violence groups and media indicate that at least nine transgender women in the U.S. — all of them women of color — have died after attacks or assaults this year. The latest was reported on Oct. 30, after Indianapolis Metro Police ruled the death of 25-year-old Tajshon (Ashley) Sherman a homicide. Sherman’s body was found early on the morning of Oct. 27. She had been shot in the head.
Many of the deaths began in June, a time marked by the LGBT community as National Pride Month and a celebration of the anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots.
“During Pride season, we were more worried about bumper stickers and marriage equality in North Carolina than the plight of trans women of color,” says Justine Catherine Matlock, a 22-year-old transgender student, activist and educator. Trans women of color are getting murdered for existing; their crime is their womanhood and their blackness or their brownness.”
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs has tracked at least eight other deaths in the U.S. this year — four in June alone. And organizers of the International Transgender Day of Remembrance have tracked far more outside of the U.S.; they list a total of more than 60 deaths across the globe.
In one such global case, a 26-year-old Philippine trans woman, Jennifer Laude, died after being drowned. A 19-year-old U.S. Marine, Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, is being held by Philippine authorities as a suspect in the case. Reports indicate Pemberton and Laude met at a bar and later went to a nearby motel. Thirty minutes after checking in, Pemberton left the motel and staff later found Laude’s body in the motel room’s bathroom.
Matlock says the uptick in violence might be connected to the continued increase in transgender rights and visibility.
“Our numbers, as far as activists go, are increasing,” she says. “Our numbers in general are rising. Contemporarily, trans women are feeling more and more comfortable to stand up and assert their identities; this, obviously, has effects of backlash.”
But determining exactly how many trans people might be victims of attacks or murders is difficult. Matlock says many victims’ true identities are never disclosed or discussed. Some, she says, are reported as “men in dresses or drag queens.”
“I can’t count the number of women I know buried beneath tombstones reading false epithets of a manhood they never had,” she says.
Transphobic violence is largely targeted toward transgender women. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs reported a total of 18 anti-LGBT homicides in 2013. Nearly three-quarters of the victims were transgender women; two-thirds were transgender women of color.
Charlotte has seen its share of transphobic violence, too. In June 2002, Franklin Freeman was suspiciously shot standing at the corner of Church and Liddel Sts., just five days before Freeman was to testify in a hearing against a member of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department. Months earlier, Freeman had gotten into a scuffle with another officer and had been charged with assaulting an officer, though the charges were later dropped and the police chief issued a letter of apology. Freeman lived daily life as Franklin, but performed drag as Aretha Scott and was known to engage in sex work as a woman. Freeman’s case remains unsolved.
In 2010, Toni Alston was murdered at the front door of her home in West Charlotte. Like Freeman’s case, Alston’s murder also remains unsolved.
Transgender people also are at risk for higher rates of suicide. In May 2013, a transgender University of North Carolina-Charlotte student died as a result of suicide after, friends say, she suffered repeated harassment both on and off campus.
If the violence is ever to stop, Matlock says the broader LGBT community will need to refocus attention on the needs of transgender women, particularly those of color.
“Our voices are stifled and we’re expected to ‘get over’ casual cissexism, transphobia and transmisogyny perpetrated by cisgender gays and lesbians,” she says, stressing that organizations need to “bring black and brown trans women into your spaces and make them a priority.”
Matlock adds: “Literally, center your organization around how it benefits black and brown transgender women. By not serving these underprivileged women, you are failing as an activist organization. They are the women that need the most help. They are the ones bearing the brunt of the violence against the LGBT community.” : :
Transgender Day of Remembrance
Celebrated internationally on Nov. 21, the event will be marked at various activities across the region:
Nov. 20, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
Time Out Youth Center
2320-A N. Davidson St.
Vigil and community remembrance event
Nov. 15, 7 p.m.
South Carolina State House
1110 Gervais St.
Candlelight vigil and memorial reading of the names
Nov. 20, 6-10 p.m.
115 Market St.
Vigil followed by fundraising benefitting transgender programming at the LGBTQ Center of Durham and LGBT Center of Raleigh
Nov. 20, 7-8 p.m.
Tree of Life Counseling
1821 Lendew St.
Candlelight vigil and community remembrance event
Nov. 20, 6-8 p.m.
Lenior Rhyne University
625 7th Ave. NE
Interfaith service with guest speaker the Rev. Debra Hopkins