Since 2015, the year after The Advocate began releasing annual lists of murdered transgender people in the United States, 109 murders of transgender people have been reported. The vast majority of victims are young, black transgender women and transfeminine people, and just more than half were killed in the south.
Four were killed in Georgia; Nino Fortson, Ava Le’Ray Barrin, TeeTee Dangerfield, and Candice Towns. Nino Fortson, the oldest of the group, was a transmasculine person killed in Atlanta. He had a partner and children, and was a part of the drag ball community. Ava Le’Ray Barrin, the youngest, was only seventeen when she was murdered. TeeTee Dangerfield was a shop steward, workers’ rights advocate, and union organizer who worked at The Mustard Seed restaurant. She was known for caring for, and advocating on the behalf of her co-workers. Relatively little is known about Candice Towns but that she had previously been targeted by gun violence, likely for being trans, before being murdered in 2017.
Since the election of Donald Trump, two transgender women have also died while in ICE custody. Their names are Roxana Hernandez and Johana Medina. Both were denied medical care for HIV/AIDS until shortly before they died. Hernandez, who died in 2018, was forced to spend five days in a freezing room with lights that never turned off just before her death. Medina died on the first day of pride month this year. The Transgender Law Center is currently pressuring ICE to release more information on the deaths.
In each of the last three years, 27 transgender people were murdered, according to the lists published by The Advocate. It is unknown whether this number, which is higher than in preceding years, represents an increase in the number of transgender people murdered, increased reporting of murders, or both. Virtually all authorities on the subject consider the current number of reported murders to be inaccurate, due to widespread underreporting of transgender murders to the police, as well as the frequent misidentification of transgender murder victims by both the police and local news sources.
This year, six transgender women have been reported murdered so far, all of whom are black. Of the 109 murder victims since 2015, at least two-thirds, or approximately 72 people, were black, whereas only about 12 were white and not Hispanic or Latina. After accounting for the demographic composition of the United States according to data from the last census, this indicates that black transgender people are twenty-seven times more likely to be murdered than white transgender people who are not Hispanic or Latina.
This extreme disparity in who is murdered, as well as the national underreporting of transgender murders, can only be understood in the context of the ongoing criminalization of black transgender people. According to Susan Stryker’s Transgender History, “Sixteen percent of all transgender people have been incarcerated, including more than 20 percent of trans women and almost half of all black trans people. By comparison, about 5 percent of the total US population has been incarcerated.”
The reason Stryker gives for the disproportionate incarceration of black transgender people is the ongoing criminalization of prostitution, which many trans women are forced into in order to survive. This has historically led police to assume that trans women, particularly black trans women, in public are automatically engaged in illegal activity. Stryker’s incarceration statistics are echoed by a report co-authored by Southerners on New Ground and The Transgender Law Center, which states that “52% of [transgender people] of color reported experiencing high levels of violence by law enforcement.”
Considering both the national incarceration rate, and the amount of police violence faced by black transgender people in the south, the reason that so many murders go unreported to the police should be self-evident. At the same time, the problems of police violence against, and the rampant incarceration of, black transgender people likely only compounds the problem posed by violence from strangers. According to the same report, “58% of trans women and femmes reported experiencing high levels of violence by strangers.” Trans women and transfeminine people of color, particularly those who are black, face a perfect storm of violence not only from society at large, but also from the people who are charged with solving their murders.
In recent years the Trump Administration has led the attack against transgender rights including the removal of protections for transgender people seeking healthcare. While the federal government is no longer acting to protect transgender people in the way it had during the Obama administration, Brian Kemp’s election win places transgender people in Georgia in added danger. While many trans activists hold out hope, many are doubtful he’ll sign protections for transgender Georgians into law even if they passed the majority-conservative General Assembly.
The Georgia Voice reached out to Chanel Haley, Transgender Inclusion Organizer for Georgia Equality, about her organization’s work to combat anti-transgender discrimination and reduce the numbers of transgender murders in the state. She replied “No comment.”