Murder underscores anti-transgender violence in D.C.

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Wednesday Sep 16, 2009

As local police to investigate Tyli'a "Na Na Boo" Mack's murder, transgender activists and others in the District of Columbia continue to demand an end to anti-trans violence in the city.

An unknown assailant stabbed Mack to death and critically injured a friend on Q Street, NW, on Aug. 26. Mack's mother joined members of Transgender Health Empowerment, Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive, DC Councilmember David Catania [I-At Large,] Gays & Lesbians Opposing Violence co-chair Chris Farris, DC Center executive director David Mariner and more than 200 others at a vigil two days later at the spot where the two women were attacked.

The Metropolitan Police Department continues to offer a reward of up to $25,000, but Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, told EDGE she feels Mack's death underscores the fact anti-trans violence remains a serious problem in the District.

"It is really, really clear to me, it's really bad here," Keisling said.

The MPD does not compile statistics of crimes based on a victim's sexual orientation or gender identity, but the Web site Remembering Our Dead indicates at least half a dozen trans Washingtonians have been murdered over the last decade. These include Stephanie Thomas and Ukea Davis, who were shot to death on Aug. 12, 2002, while they sat in their car in a Southeast intersection. Antoine Jacobs shot and killed popular entertainer Bella Evangelista on Aug. 16, 2003. And an unknown assailant bludgeoned Tyra Henderson to death in Northwest in April, 2000.

"The kind of trans people getting murdered are not white, middle-aged transsexual women like me. It’s almost always lower income, trans-women of color. If you’re any of those things in the United States, you’re at the greatest risk

Acting Lt. Brett Parsons, the MPD's LGBT liaison, told EDGE the department has not seen an increase in anti-trans violence in the city, but he conceded transgender Washingtonians "tend to be a community at risk for victimization all the time-and that's a sad statement." There have been 96 murders in the District so far this year. This statistic represents a 26.7 percent decline in homicides compared to 2008, but Keisling maintains race and class remain a motivating factor behind the majority of anti-trans murders in Washington and elsewhere.

"The kind of trans people getting murdered are not white, middle-aged transsexual women like me," she said. "It's almost always lower income, trans-women of color. If you're any of those things in the United States, you're at the greatest risk of violence. It's horrible."

Ethan St. Pierre, a long-time trans activist who sits on the International Foundation for Gender Education's Board of Directors, agreed. He noted he feels violence is one of the many forms of discrimination trans people of color in particular continue to face.

"If you are a trans person of color, you're in deep shit," St. Pierre said. "It's not going to be easy to get a job. Racism is horrible. It still exists in society."

He further categorized Mack's death as horrific. St. Pierre added he feels educating trans people and others about the prevalence of anti-trans violence is one of what he described as many necessary steps to prevent it.

"Education is always so important, but there are just people out there who hate so much they don't care," he said. "If I knew the answer, believe me I would be shouting from the rooftops."

Based in Washington, D.C., Michael K. Lavers has appeared in the New York Times, BBC, WNYC, Huffington Post, Village Voice, Advocate and other mainstream and LGBT media outlets. He is an unapologetic political junkie who thoroughly enjoys living inside the Beltway.


  • , 2009-09-16 19:54:20

    As per usual Ms. Keisling and Mr. St. Pierre, you both continue to address the symptoms, but you never seem to address the core issues of the problem, which is that your style of "activism" has done NOTHING for the trans community to prevent murders like this from occurring...... And how can you both even begin to understand the socioeconomic impact that being trans in an urban area has on those who are poor and disenfranchised. The last time I checked, you trans "activists" were too busy clinking champagne glasses at HRC dinners, greasing palms with corporations at GLBT non-profit fundraisers and being celebrity guest speakers at posh trans conventions than you were in actually doing something for the trans community. So I say PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTHS ARE MS. KEISLING AND MR. ST. PIERRE before spewing endless rhetoric to the media about how "tragic" you all think these crimes are. Welcome to the REAL world of trans people. You both really want to be an "activist" for the trans community ?? Then step out of the trans elitist box and spend a few weeks out on the street with your fellow trans brothers and sisters and live in their world. Ask them how they feel about selling themselves to get their next hotel room, meal or hormone shot and especially about how they feel to be on the street and to open up a GLBT paper and read about how you A-List trans "leaders" are living it up in the Washington circles while they suffer and die........Quite ironic that after all of these trans murders, HRC and other DC based GLBT non-profits are not to be found, yet they are only a few blocks away.........You all should be ashamed of yourselves !!

  • , 2009-09-17 02:09:05

    I can’t speak for the organizations, but there are lots of individuals who live this reality and are brave enough to put themselves out there to educate people and eventually reduce the violence. I talk through, but I am only one of hundreds of voices. If you don’t think an organization is having a positive effect, don’t support them, but don’t waste your breath on them. Tell people what it’s like for YOU. Only through education will we ever turn the tide on this kind of violence.

  • , 2009-09-17 10:21:09

    Yes, but boycotting these organizations doesn’t really solve the core problem does it ?? In fact, the popular response to folks these days who challenge our GLBT "leadership in organizations seems to be "you don’t like it, don’t join, start your own organization or in so many words shut up......." Never do I hear individuals from the community (especially the trans community) dare to speak up and challenge the corrupt non-profit status quo that is in place. And those people (if they ever come out of the masses) are the true brave ones my friend. To face ridicule, harm and ostracization from the "leaders" of our very own community because they have upset the apple cart, takes a lot more bravery than hanging a GLBT "consultant" shingle and standing up in front of a crowd of corporate folks in an attempt to "educate" them......... And besides, how on earth can trans people educate and tell their stories when they are constantly faced with a glass ceiling erected by those trans "consultants", "activists" and self-appointed "journalists" who hold the monopoly on corporate America, politics, the GLBT media and the community non-profits ??? Sure they will invite people to speak out, but in reality the door of opportunity is slammed in their face by the "consultants" and the message is subtly made clear "KEEP OUT !! WE WILL DO THE SPEAKING/EDUCATING HERE". So I say, whenever the trans community and even the broader GLBT community finally decides to address this problem of the exclusive elitist circle of "leaders" who discriminate against the rest of those who want to educate / speak out and who protect each other to make sure the monopoly stays intact, then perhaps we can see the changes happening. People in mainstream America won’t be very inclined to change if they see that we as a community don’t have our act together......... Lastly, my experience has never been allowed to be told in its entirety to the public due to the many trans corporate protectionists who censor, filter and defame the facts and my credibility all to protect that all too powerful machine, the corporate bottom line..........the same bottom line which donates large sums of "sponsorship" dollars to the very organizations we spoke of...

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