News

Murder underscores anti-transgender violence in D.C.

by Michael K. Lavers
National News Editor
Wednesday September 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.


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