2021 Has Been A Deadly Year For Transgender People
2021 isn’t over, but 45 transgender people have been killed in the United States this year. On November 9th, the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC) reported that more transgender and nonbinary people died in 2021 than in any year the organization had previously recorded. The HRC began tracking this data in 2013.
Many Transgender People Face Discrimination and Violence
When a transgender person comes out in a welcoming and safe community, they can celebrate their identity and find a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, many transgender people still face discrimination and judgment. These negative attitudes can contribute to some brutal health disparities.
Many transgender people worry that their families will disown them. The stats show that this fear is rooted in reality for many LGBTQ+ youth. As many as 40% of homeless young people identify as LGBTQ+. If a transgender child or young adult becomes homeless, they face a higher risk for a number of health issues: hunger and malnutrition, assault and muggings, and psychological trauma. Transgender people, especially transgender women of color, are often profiled by police and arrested.
According to The Commonwealth Fund, a foundation that studies health issues in communities across the United States, “The toxic stress of living as a trans person in America can negatively affect physical and mental well-being.” For example, even if a transgender person isn’t kicked out of their childhood home, they face other health obstacles. As many as 1 in 5 transgender people live without health insurance or regular access to health services, even though transgender people statistically cope with high rates of mental illness and suicidal thoughts. “Trans people are more likely than the general population to face discrimination in education and employment, abuse by the police, harassment in public spaces, and physical, verbal, and sexual assault,” The Commonwealth Fund reports.
Some Deaths Continue to Go Unreported
45 transgender people dying is, undoubtedly, 45 too many. However, organizations like GLAAD and the HRC warn that the actual number could be much higher.
Transgender victims may be misgendered by their families, the police force, or local news outlets. So if a trans person dies and is misidentified in the obituary or police report, they may not be included in LGBTQ+ data sets. After the HRC released its 2017 annual report, Nick Adams, the Director of Transgender Media and Representation of GLAAD, wrote, “For a number of reasons, murders of transgender people often go under-reported. As such, we can never be fully confident that the number of known transgender murder victims reflects the total number killed.”
Remembering the Victims
The HRC has identified the 45 victims killed this year. By publishing their names, the HRC hopes to memorialize these individuals. Here is a copy of those brief biographies.
- Tyianna Alexander, who was also known as Davarea Alexander, was a 28-year-old Black trans woman. Tyianna was shot to death in Chicago on January 6. On social media, friends of Tyianna posted that she had “good energy” and had “a beautiful light,” with one friend saying “I loved everything about her.” Said another friend, “this lady was nothing but life, encouragement, motivation and fun.”
- Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín, a transgender man, was killed on January 9 in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico. Samuel was looking forward to starting a new year. On January 1, he posted on his Facebook, “a new year to come, grateful for all the experiences who [taught] me how strong we really are, to life, to good and bad, and for all justice that is forth to come.” He also spoke out against violence in Puerto Rico, expressing his hope for a Puerto Rico without killings.
- Bianca “Muffin” Bankz, a Black transgender woman, was shot to death in Atlanta, Ga. on January 17. On Friday, January 29, Bianca’s friends and the Trans Housing Coalition (THC) held a vigil outside of her apartment to remember her. Said THC’s Founder and Co-Director Jesse Pratt López, “Muffin was just blossoming into herself.”
- Dominique Jackson, a Black transgender woman, was shot to death in Jackson, Miss. on January 25. According to her Facebook, Dominique was the Mother of the Haus of Redd, and the Founder of The Ladi Redd Inc. Friends are remembering her on social media, with one saying “my heart is heavy,” and another sharing “I’m at a loss for words.”
- Fifty Bandz, a 21-year-old Black transgender woman,was shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana on January 28. Friends of Fifty Bandz and advocates said her name as they released balloons to remember her life. On Facebook, one friend shared, “When are we as a community going to do something?!”
- Alexus Braxton, also known as Kimmy Icon Braxton, a 45-year-old Black trans woman, was killed on Feb. 4 in Miami. Braxton was a hairstylist and active on social media, posting regularly. One of her most recent posts said “they can’t stop my shine.” Family and friends held a balloon release to honor Alexus’s life on February 8 and have been remembering her on social media, with one saying “I’m beyond devastated.”
- Chyna Carrillo, who also went by Chyna Cardenas, was killed in the morning hours of February 18, 2021, in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. Not much is known at the time about Chyna’s personal life. One of her social media posts suggested she would have celebrated her 25th birthday just weeks before her death. “Chyna was very young and did not deserve to have her life cut short,” said HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative Tori Cooper.
- SiblingsJeffrey “JJ” Bright, a 16-year-old trans boy, and Jasmine Cannady, a 22-year-old non-binary person, both from Ambridge, Pennsylvania, were killed on February 22. Jeffrey was a student at Ambridge High School, while Jasmine worked at FedEx, according to their Facebook page. Both siblings were active in PRISM, a non-profit organization for the LGBTQ+ youth of Beaver County, Pa. “JJ is a part of our PRISM family,” PRISM shared on their Facebook. “JJ was a beautiful person with the biggest and brightest smile.” PRISM describes Jasmine as “a sweet, shy and artistic soul,” and according to the Transfamily of NWPA, Jasmine “loved to dance. They cared deeply for their friends.” On February 23, PRISM held a candlelight vigil in memory of Jasmine and Jeffrey.
- Jenna Franks, a 34-year-old white transgender woman, was killed in Jacksonville, North Carolina in February. Jenna was a part of the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center family. She was remembered on Facebook by friends and family as “sweet” and “a rock star.” Dennis Biancuzzo, Executive Director for the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center, described Jenna as “a beautiful soul” and “a breath of fresh air.”
- Diamond Kyree Sanders, a 23-year-old Black transgender woman, was shot to death in Cincinnati, Ohio on March 3. Diamond was described by a family member on social media as “beloved.” An obituary shared by her family describes many loving memories. “She valued her family and enjoyed spending time with them. As a child, she would say “I love my WHOLE family!,” the obituary states. In her adult life, Diamond was a traveler, known to be in New York City one week and New Orleans the following week, also according to her obituary.
- Rayanna Pardo, a 26-year-old Latina trans woman, was killed on March 17 in Los Angeles. A former colleague of Rayanna’s from Starbucks shared that as co-workers, they had an “amazing time together.” According to The Advocate, the TransLatin@ Coalition and Rayanna’s friends and family held a candlelight vigil in her memory on March 20. “Rayanna was such a beautiful young person who just wanted to live her life and be herself,” said Trans Latin@ Coalition President Bamby Salcedo.
- Jaida Peterson, a 29-year-old Black trans woman, was killed on April 4 in Charlotte, N.C. Jaida’s family and friends have been remembering her on social media, with her sister sharing, “you are going to be truly missed and once again we love you always.” Local advocates in Charlotte held a vigil on April 9 to remember her.
- Dominique Lucious, a 26-year-old Black transgender woman, was shot and killed on April 8 in Springfield, Missouri. According to her Facebook account, Dominique was a fan of the TV show “Empire.” On social media, many of Dominique’s friends expressed their love for her and how much she will be missed. One friend shared “Many don’t get to live in their authentic truth. You were fierce, glam, and hunny gorgeous! I love you now, tomorrow and forever.”
- Remy Fennell, a Black transgender woman in her 20s, was shot to death on April 15 in Charlotte, N.C. Remy’s aunt said, “She was a vibrant young transgender woman who was just trying to make it & was doing it. She started her own business, graduated from cosmetology school…She has left her mark on the hair industry.”
- Tiara Banks, a 24-year-old Black transgender woman, was killed in Chicago, Illinois on April 21, 2021. According to a news report, Tiara was sitting alone in her Ford Fusion when the shooter approached the vehicle and shot Tiara multiple times. Tiara was pronounced dead at the scene. “At just 24 years old, Tiara had her whole entire life ahead of her and, instead, we are remembering her because of the ongoing fatal violence against transgender people,” said HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative Tori Cooper.
- Natalia Smut, a 24-year-old Black and Puerto Rican transgender woman, was killed on April 23 in Milpitas, California. Natalia was a celebrated drag artist in the San Jose LGBTQ community with local community members describing her as a “motivating and creative spirit” with “captivating performances” and a “love for advocacy within the community.” Friends and community members organized a vigil for Natalia, with more than 100 people attending.
- Iris Santos, a 22-year-old Latinx transgender woman, was killed in Houston, Texas on April 23, 2021. Iris was sitting at a picnic table enjoying a meal when an unidentified suspect approached and shot her. Iris was taken to a local hospital, where she was later pronounced dead. “Iris was so young with so many things to look forward to,” said Tori Cooper, Human Rights campaign director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “Iris was simply minding her own business, sitting and eating when her life was abruptly cut short.”
- Tiffany Thomas, a 38-year-old Black transgender woman, was killed on April 24 in Dallas, Texas. Tiffany is being remembered as someone who had a “big heart, who was “funny” and “stayed laughing,” and who was stylish.
- Keri Washington, a 49-year-old Black transgender woman, was killed on May 1 in Clearwater, Florida. “Our community is yet again in mourning as a result of senseless acts of violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people,” said Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “Keri was at least the fourth transgender woman killed in less than 10 days, each of them Black or Brown. We urge everyone to end the stigma against transgender people, and to destroy the roots of transphobia and racism that fuel this violence.”
- Jahaira DeAlto, a 42-year-old transgender woman, was killed on May 2 in Boston, Mass. A well-known and beloved transgender advocate, advocate for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, and member of the ballroom community, Jahaira was a member of the House of Balenciaga and was a founder of Berkshire Transgender Day of Remembrance and Berkshire Pride Festival. She shared on Twitter, “I am the mother who raised the children whose rainbow sparkled too brightly and blinded their birth moms… I know what gratitude in the eyes of a young person who finally feels seen looks like. And for me, that’s enough.”
- Whispering Wind Bear Spirit, a 41-year-old Indigenous non-binary person, was shot in York, Pennsylvania on May 3 and died early on May 4. They often shared photos of meaningful quotes on their Facebook. Friends and family are remembering them on Facebook, with one sharing “you are missed” and another remembering Whispering Wind as “a beautiful and kind soul.”
- Sophie Vásquez, a 36-year-old Latina transgender woman, was shot and killed in Georgia on May 4. Sophie was a part of the EsTr (El / La) Community, or Community Estrella, a community that works to support transgender people in the Atlanta area. She is remembered as “the kindest person on the planet” and as someone who was “truly beautiful inside and out.”
- Danika “Danny” Henson, who also went by Pryynce Daniel and Niia Da Don on Facebook, a 31-year-old Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in Baltimore, Maryland, on May 4. Henson also may have identified as genderfluid. According to family, Henson had just begun transitioning. One family member shared that Henson “always had a BIG heart… there was love behind everything!” On May 6, friends, family and the Baltimore Safe Haven hosted a candlelight and balloon release vigil to remember Henson.
- Serenity Hollis, a 24-year-old Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in Albany, Georgia, on May 8. Her mother said that “the person that’s responsible has no idea what they took from us…I absolutely want to see that justice is served.”
- Oliver “Ollie” Taylor, a 17-year-old white trans boy, died on May 19 after being kidnapped and shot on May 12 in Gervais, Oregon. He was a student at Gervais High School, where he was involved in the Gervais Future Farmers of America organization. The high school held a vigil to remember Oliver on May 20. Oliver is remembered as “an amazing child with a quirky sense of humor, who impacted so many people.”
- Thomas Hardin, a 35-year-old Black transgender woman, was killed on May 2 in York, South Carolina. According to local news, friends have shared that Hardin “identified as a woman,” continued to use the name Thomas and used both he and she pronouns. Friends remembered Hardin as someone who “always kept you laughing.” A funeral service was held on May 12. Sadly, not much is currently known about Hardin’s life.
- Poe Black, who also went by Oliver Jackson and Legion, was a 21-year-old transgender man who was killed in Niland, California in an area called Slab City, in early May. His body was found on May 11. Poe was originally from Nashville, Tennessee and often posted about disability rights and Black Lives Matter on social media. He was also an artist, with several online stores where he displayed and sold his art.
- EJ Boykin, who also went by Novaa Watson, was killed in Lynchburg, Virginia on June 14. He had just recently celebrated his 23rd birthday on June 10 and was studying at Morgan State University. It appears EJ was also the parent of a young child. One of Boykin’s friends told HRC that “He was loved and like[d] by everyone. He was one of those people that was just good vibes and energy.”
- Aidelen Evans, a 24-year-old Black transgender woman, was found dead in March in Port Arthur, Texas. Initially investigated as suspicious, as of July, her death is being investigated as a homicide. Aidelen was originally from Beaumont, Texas and had recently spent time in Port Arthur, Beaumont and Houston. “Nobody — no parent should have to go through this,” said Lois Balka, Aidelen’s grandmother, in March. “You will always be in my heart.” Sadly, not much is currently known about Aidelen’s life.
- Taya Ashton, a 20-year-old Black trans woman, was killed in Suitland, Prince George’s County, Maryland on July 17. According to social media, friends and family held a vigil and balloon release to remember Taya. “Taya was just at the beginning of her life — a life that she deserved to live to its fullest,” said Lindsey Clark, HRC Associate Director of the Transgender Justice Initiative. “Black transgender women continue to be killed in this country, and this violence is unacceptable.”
- Shai Vanderpump, a 23-year-old Black trans woman, was killed in Trenton, New Jersey, on July 30. According to Garden State Equality, Shai was “a fierce LGBTQ advocate.” A GoFundMe remembered Shai as being known for her “style [and] love of family,” as someone who had a “heart of gold” and who “loved to dress, smile and see everyone happy and smiling.”
- Tierramarie Lewis, a 36-year-old Black transgender woman, was killed in Cleveland, Ohio on June 12. Due to misgendering and misnaming from local officials and a lack of media coverage, her death was not reported until recently. According to reporting from The Buckeye Flame, Tierramarie moved to Cleveland last year for a fresh start. One friend remembered Tierramarie as “a spirited girl… one day she would have purple hair, one day pink hair and always an outfit to go with those colors.”
- Miss CoCo, a 44-year-old trans woman of color, was killed in Dallas, Texas on August 7, 2021. According to Nu Trans Movement, she was “a well-known small girl with a big, bubbly personality. CoCo was a happy person [and] proud to be living her truth!” Sadly, not much beyond this is publicly known about Miss CoCo’s life at this time.
- Pooh Johnson, a 25- year-old Black trans woman, was killed in Shreveport, Louisiana on August 23, 2021. Johnson was an accomplished makeup artist under the name Titanizer. Sadly, not much beyond this is publicly known about Johnson’s life at this time.
- Disaya Monaee, a 32-year-old Black transgender woman, was fatally shot in Chicago, Illinois on September 6. “The epidemic of violence plaguing the transgender community, particularly Black transgender women, is appalling,” said Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “It is often the result of a toxic combination of transphobia, racism and misogyny.”
- Briana Hamilton was a 25-year-old Black transgender woman who was fatally shot in Chicago, Illinois. On social media, Hamilton’s mother described her as Brianna as an “amazing person who touched so many people hearts with her presence and her memory will forever live on.”
- Kiér Laprí Kartier, a 21-year-old Black transgender woman, was fatally shot in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 30, 2021. Kartier was from Dallas, Texas and graduated from Skyline High School. Her friends remembered her on social media as a “very strong, independent person” who “always had my back through thick and thin.”
- Mel Groves, a 25-year-old Black trans man, was fatally shot on Oct. 11, 2021 in Jackson, Miss. Groves was a plant soil scientist at Alcorn State University who loved agriculture and animals. Groves was also an active member of The Knights & Orchids Society, “a southern centered grassroots startup founded and led by black, queer, transgender, and gender non-conforming people supporting gender justice and LGBTQ visibility.”
- Royal Poetical Starz, a 26-year-old Black trans woman, was fatally shot in Miami Gardens, Florida on Oct. 2, was a graduate of Florida Career College Vocational School. On social media, she was remembered as “the life of the party.”
- Zoella “Zoey” Rose Martinez, a 20-year-old Latina trans woman, was fatally shot in Maple Valley, Washington back on Aug. 31, 2021. Her body was later found in Seattle. Initial reports did not recognize Zoey as transgender until her family confirmed her identity this month. In a statement to HRC, Martinez’s family shared that Zoey “Zoey mastered makeup that accentuated her loving and caring personality…Zoey had a beautiful spirit, she always had a smile and had only kind words to say about others. Zoey was a born leader and her peers acknowledged her as such.”
- Jo Acker, a white 26-year-old transgender woman, was killed in Boise, Idaho on October 26, 2021. Acker was one of the victims of a tragic shooting at Boise Towne Square mall while working security. Her family said Acker ran toward the suspect to stop him, likely saving many lives. Acker’s family told the media that Acker was “a hero” and “the type of person that always wanted to help people.” They added that she “will be greatly missed.”
- Jessi Hart, a white 42-year-old transgender woman, was killed in Banks, Oregon. Her body was found on Oct. 17, 2021. Prior to her death, Hart and her teenaged son, Caleb, had been struggling with housing insecurity, staying in hotel rooms through subsidized and nonprofit assistance. Later, they both were staying in her black Saab. Unfortunately, not much is known about Hart’s personal life. “As transgender people, we often face so many challenges and uncertainties, including housing and employment security,” said Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “Sadly, these situations can lead to greatly unfortunate outcomes. My heart and that of the community goes out to her son, Caleb.”
- Rikkey Outumuro, a.k.a. Tru Starlet, was a 39-year-old Latina transgender woman who was fatally shot in Centralia, WA. on the night of October 30 or the morning of October 31, 2021. Outumuro was a popular and well-loved member of the Washington LGBTQ+ community. She performed under the drag name Tru Starlet and was a former Miss Gay Lewis County. Friends remembered her on social media, with one writing that she was “an incredible advocate for the queer and trans community for nearly 20 years.”
- Marquiisha Lawrence, a 28-year-old Black trans woman, was “very humble,” as one friend remembers her, and had a “heart of gold.” Lawrence’s friend said that her favorite thing to do was to cook because she felt it “filled the belly and fed the heart.” Lawrence was fatally shot in South Carolina on Nov. 4, 2021.
Making Communities Safer for Transgender People
Transgender people in the United States face discrimination and violence, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Activists like Gwendolyn Ann Smith, the founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance, are working to make their communities safer for LGBTQ+ people. Readers who want to support this advocacy can also take action.
In 2021 alone, different states proposed over 100 bills that discriminate against transgender people. These bills include Florida’s “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act” — which bans transgender athletes participating in female school sports teams — and Tennessee’s bill that requires businesses to advertise if they welcome transgender customers. Readers may consider researching and petitioning against these discriminatory policies.
If you are transgender and you are in need of support, you don’t have to struggle alone. If you do not have a LGBTQ+ community center near you, consider reaching out to the Trevor Project, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Transgender Law Center, ThemsHealth, or GSLEN.
Together, we can work toward a safer future.
Originally published at https://www.forbes.com.