In a suburb just outside of Dallas, and to the disbelief of many – straight and LGBTQ – a transgender mural appeared recently on the side of a tattoo and piercing shop.
The mural commemorates the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, displaying an image of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (our foresisters) of the Stonewall Riots.
They are the catalysts of our 1969-to-present day LGBTQ movement. Their images are against the backdrop of the colors of the transgender pride flag.
Brian Kenny, the muralist behind the painting, explained his objective:
‘This mural represents the trans women of color who were key figures in that riot and also key figures in the start of the queer liberation movement,’ Kenny told KXAS-TV.
‘This mural is to honor them and to give more visibility, love, and attention to the transgender community.
‘I wanted this mural to be a positive reinforcement that we are all a human family. We have a lot more in common than our differences. I’m hoping the mural can be a bridge.’
For this 50th anniversary of Stonewall I hope images of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be on display widely. I hope as they will be honored in many LGBTQ communities across the country this Pride season, Americans get to learn of the difficult day-to-day struggle it took them to stay alive, too.
And, I hope we all will do more to stem the violence acted upon our transgender community. Especially our trans black and Latinx sisters of color.
A recent spate of deaths in the trans community
In one week this May, three transwomen of African descent were murdered in the US: Michelle Washington, 40, Claire Legato, 21, and Muhlaysia Booker, 23. As I draw attention to these sisters, several this year in 2019 have been murdered, and, sadly, many more will be murdered.
Washington (also known as Michelle Simone and Tameka) was found dead with gunshot wounds to her head, body, and buttocks.
‘It’s time that we say this is happening to transwomen; it’s happening to black transwomen, it’s happening to transwomen of color,’ Deja Lynn Alvarez, a candidate for Philadelphia City Council, told Philadelphia Gay News.
Legato was shot in the head after an argument erupted between her mother and the shooter. Legato’s Cleveland community took to social media to express their grief and outrage.
‘Love you, cousin,’ wrote a friend on Facebook. ‘I’m hurt, sad, angry all in one. Fly high.’
Booker was found shot dead on a quiet street in Dallas. In April, Booker was beaten by a crowd that shouted, ‘That’s what your faggot ass gets,’ ‘Get that faggot out of our hood,’ and ‘Shoot that punk ass.’ The mob scene was caught on cell phone footage that went viral on social media.
Trans life in Texas
Texas’s black trans female community has been subject to a steady stream of assaults since gentrification evicted them out of city’s once LGBTQ neighborhood. Like Booker, they congregate on a strip on the outskirts of town, and many engage in transactional sex to survive.
Texas’s hate crime laws include sexual orientation but not gender identity. This makes Kenny’s mural a protest statement, and an act of healing.
I’ll always remember Rita Hester’s vigil because the words of Hester’s mother haunts me.
Rita Hester, 34, an African American transwoman from Allston, Massachusetts, was mysteriously found dead inside her first-floor apartment with multiple stab wounds to her chest in1998.
Her dead kicked off the ‘Remembering Our Dead‘ web project and is the catalyst for what’s now our annual International Day of Remembrance.
When Hester’s mother came up to the microphone during the Speak Out portion of the vigil at the Model Café where Rita was known, she repeatedly said in a heartbroken voice that brought most of us to tears, including myself ‘I would have gladly died for you, Rita. I would have taken the stabs and told you to run. I loved you!’
As the vigil processed from the Model Café to 21 Park Vale Avenue where Rita lived and died, Hester’s mother again brought me to tears. She and her surviving children kneeled in front of the doorway of Rita’s apartment building and recited the Lord’s Prayer. Many of us joined in unison.
Trans violence ‘disproportionately affects transgender women of color’
For decades HRC has reported the violence and murders of our transgender community.
In a report titled ‘Violence Against the Transgender Community in 2018‘ on HRC’s website it states the following: ‘While the details of these cases differ, it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia conspire to deprive them of employment, housing, healthcare and other necessities, barriers that make them vulnerable.’
During the ‘Trans Catholic Voices’ breakout season at the DignityUSA conference in Boston in 2017, I heard the vulnerability of an African American transwoman. She pointed out that Pope Francis’ statements about transpeople deny them of basic human dignity and perpetuates violence against them.
In her closing remarks, the African American transwoman asked for help from advocates and allies in the room. Her request brought me to tears.
‘Trans lives are real lives. Trans deaths are real deaths. God works through other people. Maybe you can be those other people.’
We are those other people.