Black Trans Women Are Being Killed At An Alarming Rate For Simply Existing

Brianna ‘BB’ Hill was the 21st Black trans/gender non-conforming woman to be killed in 2019.

Black trans women, along with trans women of color, are under attack.

On October 14th, Brianna “BB” Hill became the 21st Black trans woman to be killed in 2019 when she was murdered in Kansas City, Missouri. Hill, whose killer was reportedly present when cops arrived on scene, is the fourth trans woman to be killed in Kansas City alone. Her death speaks to a larger issue that we aren’t talking about enough — the noticeable disconnect between cisgendered people’s celebration of trans representation on shows like Pose, and the real life treatment of Black trans women.

Young trans women are targets for violence, especially if they are sex workers. Trans women are shamed and harmed in both real and digital spaces, for nothing more than being themselves.

Crimes against trans women are especially volatile because the women are regularly deadnamed, or referred to by the birth name they no longer use, as well as misgendered. Often times, their deaths aren’t even reported as hate crimes. In July 2019, BBC recalled the murder of Dallas resident Shade Schuler and how her birth name and outdated photos were used in police appeals. Orange Is the New Black star Laverne Cox spoke on this last year, in a heavy post about how disappointed she was in law enforcement for repeatedly disrespecting her late trans sisters. She wrote, “This misgendering and deadnaming also impedes the investigations into these murders…I have been saying for years that misgendering a trans person is an act of violence. When I say that I am referring to cultural and structural violence.”

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Many years ago when I was contemplating suicide, I was planning to have a note in my pocket at the time of my death and several other notes in my home which would state my name, preferred gender pronouns and that I should be referred to as a woman in my death. My note would be clear that I should not be referred to as Laverne Cox only not any other name.  Being misgendered and deadnamed  in my death felt like it would be the ultimate insult to the psychological and emotional injuries I was experiencing daily as a black trans woman in New York City, the injuries  that made me want to take my own life. I used to share a lot more on social media about the murders of trans folks. I don't as much now because its retraumatizing for me to constantly live in this space of death, murder and the injustices that lead to these deaths. As I read this report from ProPublica I sobbed  and wept for all the trans people who have been murdered and those experiencing direct, cultural and structural violence. I wept because I haven't been allowing  myself to. I wept for all of the violence I have experienced in my own life. I am angered, saddened and enraged that the police in Jacksonville, Florida and other jurisdictions don't have policies in place to respect the gender identities of  trans folks when they have been MURDERED.  This misgendering and deadnaming also impedes the investigations into these  murders. Injustice on top of injustice! I have been saying for years that misgendering a trans person is an act of violence. When I say that I am referring to cultural and structural violence.  The police misgendering and deadnaming trans murder victims as a matter of policy feels like a really good example of that cultural and structural violence.  Thank you ProPublica for this in depth report on this issue. Please read and share and join with local trans organizations demanding that police do better on this issue and many others. Link in bio and here: https://www.propublica.org/article/deadnamed-transgender-black-women-murders-jacksonville-police-investigation/amp?__twitter_impression=true

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Cox is not the only star who has been an active trans advocate. For the Daily Front Row’s 2019 Fashion Media Awards, actress and model Indya Moore wore earrings made up of framed photos of Black trans women who have been murdered this year. The jeweler behind the earrings, Areeayl Yoseefaw Goodwin, took to Instagram to talk about how necessary the earrings’ message was. “The issue is so pressing that after creating the earring and three days before the event, Bailey Reeves, a 17 year old [trans] girl from Baltimore was killed,” she wrote. Moore honored Bailey by carrying a frame around of her face.

“Just like me, these women dare to exhaust their freedom to exist by being visible; however, instead of being celebrated, they were punished for it,” Indya said on Instagram.

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The first “Keepsake” earring was created to honor my Iya (godmother) who passed this April. Not knowing what to do in the darkest times of my life, I held on to love. I was inspired by love and representation of it. In each frame I inserted images of my sisters who my Iya has raised. They carry her in their faces and are a reminder of her presence to me simply by being themselves. We’re all entangled. We may look like one person but we show up as many. @iancogneato contacted me with a mission for the earrings. He was prepping @indyamoore to receive the honor of Cover of the Year for ELLE at @dailyfrontrow. They wanted to pay tribute to and also build awareness for the 16 (now 17) trans women who were murdered this year in the USA. The issue is so pressing that after creating the earring and three days before the event, Bailey Reeves, a 17 year old girl from Baltimore was killed. For her, Indya carried a frame around with her face. @indyamoore’s jewelry served as an altar and their speech was both a prayer for the future and a call to action. In their hour of celebration they put their trans sisters in the forefront. They spoke for those who cannot and became a light for everyone. I am both honored charged by this to continue creating, speaking up, standing up and breaking the boundaries of invisible divides between us. I am super grateful @indyamoore @iancogneato 💐

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‘Star’ actress Amiyah Scott shared a few words with us about this epidemic as well. “The continued murder of black trans women is a crisis; an epidemic destroying families and taking innocent lives. It’s time to step up and take action. We need support and safe spaces,” she said. “It’s time to have conversations about the dangers of transphobia [and homophobia], especially in the black community. Discrimination can stand in the way of education, housing and job opportunities, pushing many transgender people into homelessness and dangerous alternative surviving methods. Trans rights ARE human rights and now is the time to come together and take a stand.”

Hopefully in the future it will not require celebrities and high-profile people to speak out in order for the crimes against trans women to be addressed. Black trans women deserve protection, love, and respect. The prejudice against them is rooted in fear and ignorance and it is literally killing them.

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Editor’s note: this article has been updated with a quote from Amiyah Scott.

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