The Black Column: Black Trans Women’s Lives Matter

BLACK

Story By: Taylor Lamb

Recently, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, Nigerian author and feminist, said some pretty off base things about transgender women. I thought about addressing these comments, but I don’t think we need to give her any more attention. Besides, black trans women have already addressed them better than I ever could. Instead, I’d rather take the time to focus on the people who deserve it. Trans women. Specifically, black trans women, and the seven of them who were murdered in just the first three months of this year.

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Mesha Caldwell was a 41-year-old makeup artist living in Mississippi, beloved by her community. 2016 was the deadliest year on record for transgender people, with 26
known transgender people (the majority of them women of color) murdered. So when Mesha Caldwell was found after being shot to death onScreen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.42.51 PM only the third day of the year, it was a very sad reminder of the terrible burdens trans women are forced to bear. Very well known in her community, Mesha “never met
a stranger” according to her neighbors. She was also known for her beauty and style. Community members admired that no matter what she put on, “It looked good on her.” Commenters on her Facebook page hope that she will “Rest in peace and power.” Mesha Caldwell was the first transgender woman to be murdered in 2017.

Mesha Caldwell. Mesha Caldwell. Mesha Caldwell.

Say her name.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.44.26 PMJojo Striker was only 23 years old, when she was shot dead on February 8th in Toledo, Ohio. Unfortunately, she was misgendered by both the police who reported the crime and her family after her death. The police told her family, who insisted it wScreen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.44.31 PMas a hate crime, to “leave it alone,” but her family insists they never will. Jojo was “loved by everyone,” known for being “funny and entertaining.” Despite the police and news media’s poor treatment of her, Equality Toledo was able to raise money to help her family with the funeral costs. Jojo was the third trans woman of color to be murdered in 2017, the second one who was black.

 Jojo Striker. Jojo Striker. Jojo Striker

Say her name.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.45.24 PMJaquarrius Holland was only 18 years old. She was shot to death in Louisiana on February 19th. Despite going through hard times and often being homeless, Jaquarrius’ friend, Chesna Littleberry,Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.45.32 PM said Jaquarrius was the one to teach her about self acceptance. Jaquarrius was a big K. Michelle fan and hoped to see her in concert with Chesna. Fortunately, Chesna was able to raise money to help Jaquarrius’ family with the funeral costs. Jaquarrius was the fourth trans woman to be murdered in 2017.

Jaquarrius Holland. Jaquarrius Holland. Jaquarrius Holland.

Say her name.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.46.42 PMKeke Collier, 24 years old, was shot to death on February 21st, in Chicago. Known as the life of the party, Keke loved to dance, and had a very positive attitude. Her friends said that even when they were about to get into fights, she never wantedScreen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.46.55 PM to fight. Fortunately, Keke’s family accepted her for who she was. Her candlelight vigil was described as “beautiful,” as her family “partied,
laughed, and cried trying to remember and hold on to the memories.” Keke was the fifth trans woman to be murdered in 2017.

Keke Collier. Keke Collier. Keke Collier.

Say her name.

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.48.05 PMChyna Gibson, also known as Chyna Doll Dupree, was a 31-year-old woman living in California. She was a New Orleans native and a talented Drag performer, who performed all across the country. Chyna was visiting New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras with her family. On February 25th, she was shot to death. Her friendsScreen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.48.11 PM and family spoke of her as a “very loving person” who “everyone loved.” What should have been a fun weekend for her and her family turned into a tragic loss. Chyna Gibson was the sixth transgender woman to be murdered in 2017.

Chyna Gibson. Chyna Gibson. Chyna Gibson.

Say her name.

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Just two days after the death of Chyna Gibson, another trans woman’s life was tragically lost in New Orleans. Ciara McElveen was only 25 when she was stabbed to death on February 27th. 24 hours before her death, she showed up on her surrogate aunt’s doorstep after a long absence. McElveen had just been released from jail, and she told her surrogate aunt, “I’m clean and sober. My body had a chance to clean itself up. I feel good about life.” McElveen had a troubled life, as black trans women who are so marginalized by society often do. Her religiousScreen Shot 2017-04-03 at 9.49.14 PM parents disapproved of her “lifestyle” which led her to be homeless for a time, forcing her to live “a street life.” But those who know her personally refer to her as a “blessing.” They say McElveen was a “leader” and “a powerful spirit for everyone who met her.” Although her murder should not have happened, they say “she’s finally at peace.” Ciara McElveen was the seventh transgender woman to be murdered in 2017.

Ciara McElveen. Ciara McEleveen. Ciara McElveen.

Say her name.

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Art by Sophia Zaders

Alphonza Watson, also known as “Peaches,” was a 38 year old woman living in Baltimore, Maryland. She was shot to death the morning of March 22nd. It is incredibly important for me to note, that when I started this article, she was still alive. As I wrote to try and honor the lives of black trans woman, another black trans woman was murdered. Alphonza’s mother said that she was the “sunshine of [their] family.” Alphonza was “caring, passionate, fun” and “Very close to the Lord.” Alphonza Watson was the eighth transgender woman to be murdered in 2017.

Alphonza Watson. Alphonza Watson. Alphonza Watson.

Say her name.

All trans women are at risk of experiencing transphobic violence. And I certainly don’t want to ignore the other trans woman who was murdered this year, Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, who was also a woman of color. But black transgender women are disproportionately affected by homicidal violence. The homicide rate in America is 1 out of every 19,000. For black transgender women, that number is 1 in every 2,600. We must take the time to remember these women. We must mourn for them. We must honor them. If you have ever claimed that you believe #BlackLivesMatter, then you must include these women too. Share the stories of their lives just like you share the stories of male police brutality victims. Speak out against the violence. Affirm their identities in a sea of people misgendering and deadnaming them. Continue to tell the loud truth: that trans women are women. That Black Trans Women’s Lives Matter. Say their names.

Mesha Caldwell. Jojo Striker. Keke Collier. Chyna Gibson. Ciara McElveen. Jaquarrius Holland. Alphonza Watson.

Mesha Caldwell. Jojo Striker. Keke Collier. Chyna Gibson. Ciara McElveen. Jaquarrius Holland. Alphonza Watson.

Mesha Caldwell. Jojo Striker. Keke Collier. Chyna Gibson. Ciara McElveen. Jaquarrius Holland. Alphonza Watson.

Mesha Caldwell. Jojo Striker. Keke Collier. Chyna Gibson. Ciara McElveen. Jaquarrius Holland. Alphonza Watson.

Mesha Caldwell. Jojo Striker. Keke Collier. Chyna Gibson. Ciara McElveen. Jaquarrius Holland. Alphonza Watson.

Say their names.