Queer and transgender people are still regularly being killed – this is not our history, it's our day to day

Although it’s an uncomfortable reality to accept, we need to accept it

Kaan K
Thursday 01 February 2018 12:40 GMT
Worldwide there were over 270 reported murders of trans and gender non-conforming people in 2017 – the actual number is predicted to be much higher
Worldwide there were over 270 reported murders of trans and gender non-conforming people in 2017 – the actual number is predicted to be much higher (AFP/Getty Images)

Kerrice Lewis was working in construction. She “was very excited because she had just finished taking some classes and was looking forward to taking some more” in the words of her grandfather, William Sharp. Her mum had died of a brain aneurysm and her father was murdered, so she was fostered by her grandparents from the age of 11. When asked how he was feeling after her death, William Sharp said, “[It’s] devastating. Can't put it in words.”

Kerrice Lewis was murdered on 28 December in Washington DC. She was shot multiple times then locked in a car boot to burn alive. The police found the car on fire, but by the time the medics arrived and the fire was put out, Kerrice was gone. Some residents say they could hear her screaming from the boot before she died. She was just 23 years old.

William described her as a “free spirit” – someone who would “light up a room, just talking and laughing.” He said that she was “full of life”.

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Although it’s not known yet whether Kerrice’s murder was a hate crime, it’s true that she was one of four black lesbian women killed in the US within a one week period around Christmas 2017.

The first were lesbian couple Shanta Myers, 36, and Brandi Mells, 22. Shanta’s two children Jeremiah “JJ” Myers, 11, who loved playing basketball, and his five-year-old sister Shanise, were also killed.

The family’s bodies were found bound, their throats slashed, in their basement apartment in New York on 26 December. It’s believed they were killed on 21 December. Two men have been arrested as suspects.

Shanta’s other son Isaish Smith, 15, was away on a retreat when he found out about his mother and siblings. “I fell down to the ground right in the bathroom and cried, thinking who would’ve done this... What happens if that was your family and you were the only one who survived?”

The last was Kaladaa Crowell, 36, and her daughter, Kyra Inglett, who was 11 years old. They were shot and killed in West Palm Beach on 28 December. Kaladaa’s girlfriend, Robin Denson, believes that her son, Marlin Larice Joseph, shot them. He disappeared after the murders, and has now been arrested by police.

Robin said at a press conference a few days after their murders, “I love my son, but I loved Kyra and Kaladaa, too.” She described Kyra as like her own daughter. “Marlin, son, I love you… You know I love you, but please, turn yourself in.”

I wish I could give space to every queer and transgender person who has been killed in the past year in this article, but sadly there are too many. After the wide coverage of Orlando in 2016 our community was grief-stricken – reminded, so publicly, that we are targets. That to be LGBTQ+ is not just about who you’re attracted to or what gender you identify with, but also about whether you’ll make it through the next day, and how you’ll make it through that day. Particularly if you’re a person of colour. Particularly if you’re transgender.

The Pulse nightclub shooting made the headlines, but many queer and trans people’s murders don’t. In 2017, according to the latest research from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence, there was an average of one hate violence-related homicide of an LGBT person in the US every six days. Worldwide there were over 270 reported murders of trans and gender non-conforming people in 2017 – the actual number is predicted to be much higher, partly due to misgendering on report documents relating to their deaths.

Already this year two trans women, Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien and Viccky Gutierrez, have been murdered in the US. And although I can’t find any official statistics for murder rates in the UK (these things are scarcely reported on and rarely collated), according to Stonewall attacks on LGBT people have increased by 80 per cent here over the past four years, with one in five LGBT people saying they’ve been verbally or physically attacked because of their gender identity or sexual orientation in the last 12 months.

A few of these attacks made the headlines – couple James and Dain who were beaten up by four men outside a nightclub in Brighton last February while one of their attackers shouted “gay boys”. Dain’s eyesight didn’t fully return until eight weeks after the attack. Then there was the group of lesbian women who were attacked by a gang of men in Portsmouth in April last year – one who was hit so hard she lost seven of her front teeth.

I could go on. I could go into detail about the mass shooting at Mexican gay bar La Madame, Dandara Dos Santos who was killed in Brazil by attackers who filmed her murder, the torture and genocide still happening in Chechnya – and please do take time to read about them. As aforementioned, I wish I had the time and space to document them all.

But actually I really wish I wasn’t writing this – I wish I was talking about the lives of these people, rather than their deaths, or attacks that have happened to them. I wish I knew of them because I met them someday, or heard about something they did in their lives, rather than because they were victims of attacks, some of them gone forever.

The coverage of these attacks and murders has been scarce – the Pulse shooting in Orlando, for example, was widely reported on, while the attack on La Madame in Mexico that happened just a month before was barely covered globally. Many of the people included in this article haven’t been mentioned outside local and LGBTQ+ media at all.

Starting today, it’s LGBTQ+ history month. And while it is important to remember those who were killed historically for their sexual orientation or gender, we must also remember that violence toward queer and trans people is not something that just happened “back then when society was less tolerant”. Queer and trans people are being murdered almost every day, around the world – that is not our past, it’s our present. And although it’s an uncomfortable reality to accept, we need to accept it.

Kerrice Lewis, Shanta Myers, Brandi Mells, JJ Myers, Shanise Myers, Kalaada Crowell, Kyra Inglett, Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, Viccky Gutierrez, Dandara Dos Santos, all those killed at Pulse and La Madame and in Chechnya, and all those not mentioned in this article – we will never forget you. May you rest in power.

The Trans Murder Monitoring Project records reported deaths of transgender people worldwide. Autostraddle and Pink News report regularly on the murder of LGBTQ+ people

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