I am writing this as a person who has a target on her back, a transgender woman. As such, I feel the depths of scathing pain each time one of my trans sisters, brothers, or relatives is murdered. Whether through overt murder or subtle forms of political and economic violence, too many beloved members of my community are taken from this life. How is targeting my community acceptable?!
Two transgender women were murdered in Georgia less than one week apart. In Brookhaven, a suburb of Atlanta, on May 4th, between the hours of 2 a.m. and 4 a.m., Sophie Vasquez was shot multiple times in front of the door to her apartment.
While the Brookhaven Police Department have identified a suspect, the circumstances and motives surrounding Sophie’s murder are unknown. As Sophie was accepted as a woman by her family, her correct name and gender have been used in all press releases surrounding her case.
In Albany, Georgia around 4 a.m. on May 8th, Serenity Hollis was shot in the back of the head while she was walking along a street. No suspects have been named, but police have video of the shooting.
The Albany police, the Dougherty County District Attorney, and even Serenity’s own family continue to deadname and misgender her. The deaths of Sophie and Serenity mark the 31st and 33rd murders of trans people since the most recent Transgender Day of Remembrance in 2020.
These two women who were unjustly taken from us represent the breadth of diversity within the transgender community. Moreover, the deaths of Sophie and Serenity expose how the worst forms of violence are exacted upon Black and Latina members of the trans community.
Sophie Vasquez was 36 years old, an immigrant from Costa Rica, and was much beloved by her mother and sister. Serenity Hollis was 24 years old, African American, and seems to have had less support from her family than Sophie had from hers.
While highly visible organizations advocate for Black victims of violence at the hands of law enforcement, precious little attention is given to hate crimes against transgender people of color.
Worse yet, politicians and dark moneyed organizations push for state laws limiting the freedom and healthcare access for trans people.
In Arkansas, the erroneously-named “Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act” would have revoked the medical license of any physician who provides gender-affirming healthcare to trans people under the age of 18.
Surgical transition-related care is already prohibited for minors; hence, this law was pure misinformation and scapegoating.
The week before passing the ban on healthcare for trans minors, Arkansas also passed a ban on trans children participating on sports team congruent with their gender identity. Governor Asa Hutchinson made headlines for vetoing the healthcare ban, but only after signing the sports ban.
This is bullying, plain and simple. So far this year, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, and Tennessee have likewise passed laws restricting trans student engagement in K-12 or even college sports.
Of these aforementioned states, Tennessee has perpetrated the worst legislative violence against trans folks. Tennessee’s “Business Bathroom Bill” requires any business that allows trans people to use their restrooms to post “warning” signs. It is not clear if any businesses are going to fight this law since it violates free speech.
Tennessee also passed a “Student Bathroom Bill” which forces students to use the restroom or locker room according to their sex assigned at birth. This law obviously contradicts federal law, but it seems at present that no one has the will to fight the state of Tennessee.
If these exclusionary laws are allowed to stand, many southern and western states will proceed to build a new, transphobic version of Jim Crow segregation. Given the current epidemic of street-level violence against trans women of color, many Black and Brown women will suffer disproportionately from state-sanctioned anti-trans violence.
Cisgender Black women could be targeted by enforcement of these laws just as readily as trans women. The day has arrived when all women must recognize their vulnerability to both street-level and legislative violence.
When I reflect upon the many levels of violence against my trans family, I mourn. All the women, men, and non-binary persons listed below deserved to live out their truth. Each one had a Divine spark to contribute to humanity. Now, they have been removed from this world by the cruelty of individuals and the indifference of society. Note that the 15 names in the list below are not the total for the year (which is actually 34 so far), but are only a count of trans murders in the U.S. in the past two months.
|Possible hate crime murders from April through May 2021|
|• Jaida Peterson, 29, slain 4/4/2021, Charlotte, N.C.|
|• Dominique Lucious, 26, slain 4/8/2021, Springfield, Mo.|
|• Remy Fennell, 28, shot 4/15/2021, Charlotte, N.C.|
|• Natalia Smüt, 24, stabbed to death 4/21/2021, Milpitas, Calif.|
|• Tiffany Thomas, 38, shot 4/21/2021, Dallas, Texas|
|• Tiara Banks, 24, shot 4/21/2021, Chicago, Ill.|
|• Iris Santos, 22, shot 4/23/2021, Houston, Texas|
|• Keri Washington, 49, slain 5/1/2021, Clearwater, Fla.|
|• Jahaira DeAlto, 43, stabbed to death 5/2/2021, Dorchester, Mass.|
|• Thomas Hardin, 35, slain 5/2/2021, York, S.C.|
|• Whispering Wind Bear Spirit, 41, died of a gunshot 5/4/2021, York, Pa.|
|• Sophie Vasquez, 36, shot 5/4/2021, Brookhaven, Ga.|
|• Danika “Danny” Henson, 31, shot 5/4/2021, Baltimore, Md.|
|• Serenity Hollis, 24, shot 5/8/2021, Albany, Ga.|
|• Oliver “Ollie” Taylor, 17, died from kidnapping 5/19/2021, Gervais, Ore.|
In the face of the mindless hate which kills my family, I can find no earthly solace. Yet, I am convinced that there exists more than the merely physical.
The very existence of trans people, souls at odds with our bodies, points to an Otherworld beyond this physical one. According to the more inclusive branches of Christian tradition, this Otherworld is none other than Christ’s coming kingdom.
After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people, and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (Revelation 7:9, NIV)
As trans people are oppressed by the principalities of this current world, it is apparent that we will be included as one of the many peoples to be restored to life with Christ. Hope, healing, reunion, and joy await us all in this Otherworld, Kingdom of God, Jerusalem, and/or Heaven.
When she is not analyzing viral DNA at the Centers for Disease Control, Dr. Darlene Wagner is traveling with her wife, Monica Helms, helping with home improvement projects, or supporting the Atlanta trans community through advocacy. Raised Evangelical Christian and currently identifying as Universalist Christian, she is a member of Pilgrimage United Church of Christ in Marietta, Ga., and enjoys hiking, photography, blogging, woodworking and gardening.