In August 2020, a mob burst into my home in Philadelphia, screaming transphobic slurs and beating me senseless with their fists, feet and weapons until my bones broke.
My goddaughters were frozen in horror as they witnessed my attack from only a few feet away.
The attackers reveled in the violence, intensifying their assault as they hit me over and over. They seemed crazed in their bloodlust while calling me a “tranny” and a “man.”
I lost consciousness.
I am grateful to have made it out alive.
I know that life for a trans woman of color is often a horror story. It is a horror rife with deep disparities existing within every social matrix in life, from housing and food security to employment and health care. We are often forced to live in hostile transphobic communities that openly resent our very existence. We are harassed and harmed, making every corner we turn a dark and dangerous one. Rest assured, whatever a Black trans woman may know about suffering is continually redefined, as our oppression is as boundless as it is pervasive.
So many transgender women — including my Philadelphia sisters Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Mia Green, along with many other Black trans women around the nation — are not as fortunate as me to have survived a violent attack. At least 44 transgender and gender-nonconforming people were killed in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign. That’s the highest number on record since the organization began tracking these killings in 2013.
For more than a decade, I have served as a change agent for trans rights. I have often worn many hats of advocacy in my efforts to eradicate the inequities that affect the trans community. Whether I am leading a peaceful protest, speaking at an educational seminar, serving on a community advisory board or facilitating support groups, the purpose of my civic engagement is to educate, inspire and empower. For the past six years, I have co-facilitated a transgender and gender-nonconforming support and social group called TransWay, which is part of the William Way LGBT Community Center, where I also serve as a board member.
In the fall of 2019, I used my support group facilitator skills during my internship at a transgender residential recovery facility called Morris Home. It was during several support group sessions, as well as numerous one-on-one encounters, that I came to know Rem’mie. She was vibrant, talented and self-assured, and her unapologetic, live-out-loud bravado and self-determination was nothing short of captivating. She had major plans to become a renowned fashion designer and model, and after witnessing a successful fashion show she organized and held in William Way’s Grand Ballroom, I realized her potential was limitless.
Sadly, as the pandemic began to grip the nation, in-patient facilities such as Morris Home had to limit interactions with outside workers. As a result, my internship was effectively canceled. Rem’mie had left the facility only a few months before my internship ended, and we lost contact with each other. So when I received word of her death, I was overcome with emotion and incredible guilt over not doing enough to seek her out and check in on her. I hurried to secure a $25,000 reward in an effort to catch the person of interest in her murder, who has since been arrested. When I was attacked, it became even clearer that the stakes for transgender women of color are at an all-time high.
The current state of affairs is dire. In fact, the American Medical Association in 2019 deemed the fatal violence against transgender women an “epidemic.” Though this grim truth may have only recently been documented with such magnitude, the reality is that we’ve experienced high levels of violence since well before 2019.
Though trans people have yet to experience the full weight of support across social justice movements, faith communities and political parties, we thrive and survive because our resilience empowers us to stay the course.
This resilience is why I decided to use my attack as a springboard to advance my advocacy work of ending hate crimes against LGBTQ+ communities. I operate within the three Ps of my advocate playbook: protest, politics and policy. We protest to bring public awareness to our plight by showing bravery, strength and empowerment through our collective visibility.
Through that framework, I hope to spark the healing dialogue that is necessary to provoke positive and healthy movement toward community building.
Activist Elliott Ashby said it best when he stated: “Every bigot was once a child without prejudice.” My advocacy work is centered on that very notion: reaching out to the nonjudgmental child that exists within us all. I often look to our youth for inspiration and hope, as they seem much more pliable to the ideals of diversity and inclusion than so many in the generations that precede them.
Here’s what must happen now: We must hold elected officials responsible for the oath they took to protect the public, including LGBTQ+ communities, regardless of partisan, religious or personal ideologies. We must push for policies that would affirm us as a protected class under hate crime statutes and equality bills. It is high time our political powers that be show genuine concern for protecting transgender communities.
I hope for everyone’s sake that people open their hearts and bond together to end the relentless violence against Black transgender women.
Our lives are hanging precariously in the balance.