Ashleigh Atwell

Ashleigh Atwell: Rest in peace and power, Cheryl Courtney-Evans

When I met Cheryl Courtney-Evans for the first time, two years ago, she was mad as hell.

I invited her to speak to my student group at Georgia State for a meeting about police brutality against LGBTQ people. The directions I’d sent her to get to the building resulted in her walking in circles across campus to get to the room. I had no idea until she got to the room. She was out of breath and walked with a slight limp and told me about her trek. I gave her a nervous laugh and apology to which she responded that nothing was funny. She wasn’t happy but she made it and the meeting went as planned. I got an earful that day but I’ve loved her ever since.

On October 2, she passed away.

I am devastated.

Ms. Cheryl was a pioneer for the transgender movement in Atlanta. Before we knew about Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, she was down here doing the work. She was the founder of TILTT (Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth) and did everything she could to make sure transgender people were that much closer to liberation. Whenever I saw her, she usually had a young woman with her and the mother-daughter aspect between them was obvious.

Even though I am a cisgender girl, I still felt her love. Talking to her felt like I was talking to my aunt or grandmother. There were times she’d say something that I might not agree with but her conviction to her beliefs and ability to stand her ground were admirable.

I haven’t been able to do as much activism and organizing as I’d like, so I wouldn’t see Ms. Cheryl very often but that changed after I got a second job at Michaels. Unbeknownst to me, she was a crafty person and my store was the most convenient to her. I turned out of one of the aisles and ran right into her. She seemed standoffish at first so I backed off. About 15 minutes later, she sent her young friend to find me and bring me to her and explained that she was having a panic attack, a feeling I know too well. Then, I got one of her lovely hugs. After that, I’d see her whenever she’d come in. I had no idea that Michaels would be the last place I would see her. I had no idea that the hug I got during her visit would be the last one. This isn’t my first, second or even third time losing someone so I should be used to it but still, it hurts. I still have my what-ifs and should haves. I’m sure many of us that knew and loved her do.

I’ve written about a lack of community in Atlanta and if Ms. Cheryl’s passing has taught me anything, it’s that we need each other more now than ever. Her death is the third prominent LGBTQ death we’ve experienced in 2016. We need to reach back and grab the young queers and trans babies that are coming behind us.

The people that pulled us up in our youth are getting older and joining the ancestors, so we will be left to pick up their torches.

Rest in peace and power, Cheryl Courtney-Evans. You’ve earned it. I am honored to call you an ancestor.