A transgender mural is painted on the side of a tattoo and piercing shop in a suburb just outside of Dallas. To the disbelief of many—straight and LGBT—across the country, The mural commemorates the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. It displays an image of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera (our fore sisters) of the Stonewall Riots. They are the catalysts of our 1969-to-present day LGBT movement. Their images are against the backdrop of the colors of the transgender pride flag.
“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,” said Brian Kenny when asked to explain his objective. “This mural is to honor them and to give more visibility, love, and attention to the transgender community,” Kenny told KXAS-TV. “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.”
During the 50th anniversary of Stonewall I hope images of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be on display. I hope they will be honored in many LGBT communities across the country. During Pride season LGBT Americans get to learn of the difficult day-to-day struggle it took our early community just to stay alive. I hope we all will do more to stem the violence that occurs and is acted upon our transgender community, especially our trans black and Latina sisters of color.
In one week this past month, three transwomen of African descent were murdered. Michelle Washington, 40, Claire Legato, 21, and Muhlaysia Booker, 23 are no longer with us. Washington (also known as Michelle Simone and Tameka) was found dead with gunshot wounds to her head, body, and buttocks. As I draw attention to these sisters, several others have also been murdered in 2019. Sadly, many more will be murdered.
“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, said to the 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.” Others in the crowd said, “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.
The black trans female community in Texas has been subject to a steady stream of assaults since gentrification evicted them out of city’s once LGBT neighborhood. Like Booker, they congregate on a strip on the outskirts of town. And many engage in transactional sex to survive.
Hate crime laws include sexual orientation in Texas, but not gender identity. This makes Kenny’s mural a protest statement, and an act of healing.
Rita Hester, 34, an African American transwoman from Allston, MA, was mysteriously found dead inside her first-floor apartment with multiple stab wounds to her chest in 1998. Her death kicked off the “Remembering Our Dead” web project and is the catalyst for what’s now our annual International Day of Transgender Remembrance.
Hester’s mother came up to the microphone during the Speak Out portion of a vigil at the Model Cafe 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 moved from the Model Cafe 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. I’ll always remember Rita Hester’s vigil, because the words of Hester’s mother haunt me.
For decades the Human Rights Campaign 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 who pointed out that Pope Francis statements about trans people 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 that 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.
Rev. Irene Monroe can be reached via Twitter at: twitter.com/revimonroe