As the title suggests, everything on this blog concerns violence against trans women.
The Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project is a trans feminist project addressing issues of systematic, institutional and interpersonal violence and oppression experienced by trans women (those who were coercively assigned male at birth and identify or are identified as women/female) across multiple identities (e.g., race, class, dis/ability, citizen-status, nationality, sexuality, age, HIV status, and form, status, or age of transition, etc.)
Ida Hammer is a writer and social justice communicator. She organizes the Trans Women's Anti-Violence Project. She presents workshops and trainings on cis privilege and being a trans ally. She's also involved in organizing against sexualized violence. She's a proud dyke-identified trans woman and an organizer of the New York City Dyke March.
Support Monica Jones and De-fund Project ROSE
Phoenix, Arizona has some of the most severe prostitution laws in the United States.
According to a municipal statute titled ‘manifestation’, an intent to commit prostitution includes activities like waving at cars, talking to passers-bys, and inquiring if someone is a police officer. Mandatory minimum sentencing and felony upgrades make it highly probable that workers are funneled into the prison system for sex work related offenses. Alongside Arizona’s already brutal racial profiling laws, these anti-prostitution statutes enable police to profile and harass people of color, immigrants, people in poverty, and LGBTQ people.
The History of Project ROSE
Since 2011, Phoenix police, prosecutors, and professors from the Arizona State University (ASU) School of Social Work have been collaborating on a program titled Project ROSE (Reaching Out to the Sexually Exploited). Over two weekends per year, up to 125 police officers detain community members that are suspected of being sex workers. Even though the police and Project ROSE founders state that the individuals apprehended are not technically arrested, the Phoenix ACLU has stated otherwise-they are handcuffed and brought to the Project ROSE command post and are confined to a room to speak with a Project ROSE volunteer and a city prosecutor. Arrestees cannot speak to a defense attorney, even though they are being held without the constitutionally mandated option of being able to leave freely. People who qualify (only those with no outstanding warrants, those who have not completed a prior diversion program, and not in possession of any drugs at the time of arrest) are told they can take a diversion program run by Catholic Charities that can last as long six months. Criminal charges are held over the arrestee’s heads until the diversion program is completed. Those who do not qualify, or decline to participate in the diversion program, are sent a court summons in the mail and face criminal charges.
Project ROSE harms sex workers.
By teaming up with police and prosecutors, sex worker diversion programs like Project ROSE increase the profiling and targeting of vulnerable communities — poor communities, people in street based economies, and communities of color. Trans women of color are disproportionately impacted. Rather than making sex workers safer, diversion initiatives cause harm by funneling them into the criminal justice system. Project ROSE and programs like it violate ethical standards in social work and perpetuate the idea that individuals who sell sex are not human. Further, Project ROSE frames its work as saving sex workers — who are stigmatized as scarred victims rather than people with civil and human rights (the right to work, the right to be free from violence, the right to due process and much more). This “savior” mentality makes no distinction between people who are subject to human trafficking and those who engage in the sex trade to support themselves and their families. Project ROSE results in increased vulnerability and fear on behalf of sex workers, violating their rights while driving them into the criminal justice system. Similarly, Project ROSE may also violate the rights of victims of trafficking, and may not adhere to best practice standards for the treatment and care of trafficked persons set out by human rights advocates.
Who is Monica Jones?
Monica Jones is a trans activist and sex worker rights advocate who lives in Phoenix; she is also a student at ASU who recently gained entrance into the university’s School of Social Work.
During the Project ROSE stings in May 2013, Monica spoke at a community event protesting Project ROSE. The next evening, as the Project ROSE stings continued, police arbitrarily arrested Monica and charged her with violating a vague anti-prostitution statute. Monica is standing up for her rights in court and her trial date is on March 14, 2014. It is of the utmost importance that we stand in support of Monica and all others whose human rights are being violated by the police and prison system with the support of programs like Project ROSE. Ultimately, we must get Project ROSE’s mass arrest program off the streets of Phoenix and bring an end to police harassment and profiling everywhere.
Since her arrest, Monica and others have continued to protest Project Rose. As a trans woman of color, Monica has been especially ssingled out for police harassment. Police have approached her three times when she’s been near her home or walking around Phoenix, and the most recent time she was handcuffed again and under suspicion of “manifestation”. Monica’s case proves that Project ROSE is harmful.
Project Rose is planning its next sting operation in February. ASU has hosted several summits on “sex trafficking” and Project ROSE is being hailed as the new model for preventing sex work across the United States. Sex Workers Outreach Project (SWOP-Phoenix), the Best Practices Policy Project, and other harm reduction and trans activist groups are uniting to stop Project ROSE and put an end to this coercive and unethical model of policing, and to change Arizona sex work laws.
SWOP-Phoenix and the Best Practices Policy Project have recently filed a report of civil rights violations to the UN Human Rights Committee on behalf of Arizona sex workers. We invite you to join us in speaking out against unjust criminalization programs like Project ROSE.
Please sign this letter to make your voice heard against Project ROSE and the collaboration between ASU School of Social Work and the City of Phoenix.
The pledge to support Monica Jones and protest Project ROSE
We, the undersigned individuals and organizations, protest the coercive and criminalizing tactics of Project ROSE. We believe that Project ROSE stigmatizes sex workers as victims rather than people with agency and rights. Further, we believe that Project ROSE causes far more harm in the form of incarceration and forced “reeducation” than it does good. We demand that Arizona State University cease its partnership with Project ROSE, and that Project ROSE is ended entirely.
We demand that the resources allocated to Project ROSE are channeled to developing sex worker led, non-coercive models to support the health and safety of sex workers that promote harm reduction and improve occupational health, safety and working conditions rather than criminalizing and profiling vulnerable communities.
We are alarmed at the targeting of a human rights defender- Monica Jones- who is standing up for the rights of people unfairly targeted by the police and prison systems. We demand that the criminal charges against Monica be dropped, that an independent monitoring body launch an investigation into police harassment against her, and that she be protected from further abuse and harassment by police.
We are united in calling for an end to the pattern and practice of racist and transphobic policing across the United States, and we commit ourselves to working for a society where people of all backgrounds and identities are free from police abuse and discriminatory arrest.
Yesterday we were thanked for being silent and respectful to a grieving family seated center stage. We were instructed to keep politics at the door though politicians had a front-row seat with camera crews readied for their election year soundbites. …
The only reason I left not feeling defeated was because of you, in all your resilience, beauty, brilliance and ferocity. You held me up, you told me that we would get through, and you showed up despite knowing the open secret we all carry: that Islan was not the first to fall and she will not be the last.”
I am writing this blog tonight in response to recent events which have taken place. Domonique Newburn (Fontana, California), Islan Nettles (Harlem, New York) and a young trans woman in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania were all murdered in the same week. All were trans women of color.
Tonight I am…
Koko Jones: Why she kicks ass
- She is a super‐skilled and charismatic percussionist and band leader based in New Jersey, whose music is deeply trained in R&B, Afro‐Latin, jazz and traditional African percussion.
- She studied music at the University of Massachusetts and Jazzmobile simultaneously until 1979 when her Professor, saxophonist Archie Shepp, took her on tour to Europe where she recorded her second album. Just months later she was hired by The Isley Brothers and toured and later recorded a host of records with them. The association with The Isley’s led to numerous opportunities one of which was several tours with Whitney Houston.
- Her transition from male to female took place in 1991 which left a gap in her musical work history until 1999 when she was forced to present as a male in order to have full custody of her child. She transitioned back in 2008.
- She has also toured with Jermaine Jackson, Archie Shepp, Charles McPherson, Winard Harper, Ray Copeland, Talib Kibwe, Babatunde Lea, James Weidman, Clifford Adams, and Malaki Ma Congo Drum and Dance Ensemble.
- In 2013, Koko will release her fourth album as a leader, her third on the Motema label and her very first recording made since she transitioned.
- Her talents as a percussionist, songwriter and producer are revealed on her new CD and stage performance program with a cycle of songs that trace her physical, spiritual and musical journey towards her new life as a ‘liberated, Transgender woman percussionist of color.’
Get into Ms. Jones’ everything.
Jury Selection Begins for Officer Accused of Shooting Trans Women: MPD Officer Kenneth Furr is accused of opening fire on five people as he stood on the hood of their car. Furr has pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the August 2011 incident. Authorities say he used his service weapon to fire through the windshield of a car, striking two transgender women and their male friend. (NBC4 Washington, Oct. 15, 2012)
Transgender Women’s Constitutional Challenge To Sharia Law Fails In Malaysia: In October, Judge Siti Mariah Ahmad, of the high court of Seremban in Negeri Sembilan, one of Malaysia’s thirteen states, struck down a first-ever constitutional challenge brought by four Malay trans women who sought the court’s protection for being unfairly targeted by Article 66 [which criminalizes those assigned male at birth “who dress in women’s clothes and behave like women in public”] of the Negeri Sembilan sharia law. Malaysian rights advocate, Thilaga, working in the Justice for Sisters campaign for the rights of mak nyah, says, “Transgender people don’t report violations by police or religious officers because they don’t expect justice. Often, they don’t know their rights and lack resources to go to court to fight charges.” The four applicants in the Negeri Sembilan case attest to this. (The New Civil Rights Movement, Oct. 16, 2012)
Trial for Kenneth Furr, D.C. police officer accused of solicitation, begins: [In correct language is used in this story, e.g. giving less authority to a trans woman’s preferred name, using “gays” as a noun rather than an adjective, and confusing being gay (sexuality) with being trans (gender identity).] Chloe Moore, a transgender woman, testified she was walking near 5th and K Streets last Aug. when she was approached by Furr, who she says was intoxicated. Moore says Furr continued to stalk her, offering money for sex despite her refusals. She says he stopped when he was confronted by other individuals, some of whom are also transgender. An arresting officer testified he heard shots and arrived to see Furr, gun in hand, jumping up and down on the hood of the Chrysler. According to one witness, Furr was yelling, “All you [expletives] are going to die.” (Sam Ford, ABC 7 News, Oct. 17, 2012)
Malaysian AIDS Council criticizes transgender court ruling decision: Government-funded organization has criticized last week’s Islamic court decision ruling against four transgender women. The trans women were challenging an Islamic law that prohibits cross-dressing by arguing it infringes their constitutionally protected human rights of non-discrimination and freedom of expression. Justice for Sisters said that Judge Ahmad had failed to consider the fact that ‘many transwomen, including the four applicants in the case, have been subjected to physical, verbal, emotional and sexual abuse by officers employed by the Islamic religious department’. (Anna Leach, Gay Star News, Oct. 18, 2012)
Trial begins for D.C. cop charged with shooting trans women in car: D.C. Superior Court trial began on Wednesday for D.C. police officer Kenneth Furr, who was arrested while off-duty in August 2011 for allegedly firing his service revolver into the front windshield of a car in which three transgender women and two male friends were sitting. Two of the women and one of the men suffered non-life threatening gunshot wounds in the incident. Earlier this year, a Superior Court grand jury handed down a 9-count indictment against Furr that included six counts of assault with a dangerous weapon, one count of assault with intent to kill while armed, and two counts of solicitation for prostitution. Prosecutors have not listed charges against Furr as hate crimes. (Lou Chibbaro Jr., Washington Blade, Oct. 19, 2012)
Thank you, Fierce, for publishing these letters. I, too, am upset that the Times has not issued an apology for this lacking-in-context piece and/or published any of these letters from others who are angered by the piece.
On July 25, 2012, FIERCE organized a Call to Action asking supporters to submit letters to the New York Times demanding Dignity for Transwomen of Color and LGBTQ Youth in their reporting. The Call to Action was organized in response to a July 24th article: “For Money or Just to Strut, LIving Out Loud on a Transgender Stage.
The article, which relied on and fed into harmful, negative stereotypes of young transwomen of color, neglected to highlight or consider the root causes of why LGBTQ youth are disproportionately on the streets and finding it harder to maintain access and ownership over this historical safe space.
Over the weeks following the action, we received dozens of letters that were not only powerful, but also the acts of solidarity were incredibly moving for all of us here at FIERCE! Seeing your words and feeling the support of so many allies, we saw the depth and strength of our struggle against transphobia, homophobia, gentrification, and criminalization of LGBTQ youth of color, especially transwomen of color.
As far as we know, theTimesdid not publish the letters. In an effort to empower LGBTQ youth and the communities that support LGBTQ youth-led organizing in NYC and elsewhere, we wanted to share a small collection of these letters with you.
In love and struggle,
THE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT — January Marie Lapuz was stabbed at her home in the New Westminster area last Saturday night and died at a hospital shortly after. No one has been arrested but someone was seen running from the area.
Lapuz was highly regarded in the trans community, volunteering her time and active involvement in a LGBT social and support group. Lapuz moved to the area from the Phillipines and spoke 3 languages.
Sher Vancouver’s Alex Sangha: “She would volunteer as a host at our social events, help us out with fundraising and she’d even perform. … She did a great Beyonce and she was a great singer and dancer. She was the life of the party. She made everybody laugh. We already miss her a lot.” … “The obstacles she overcame as an immigrant, as a transgender person, as a person in poverty … she really overcame a lot. … I learned that society is not providing enough supports for people like January Marie.”
The police do not know why she was killed but report they do have some details that they don’t wish to release at this time. They also reported that she was a sometimes sex worker.
Police are looking a mid 20s Asian male, five foot five inches, short black hair, and muscular build, He was wearing gray shorts and a black muscle shirt. The police are asking for the public’s help, call 1-877-551-4448 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous tips: CrimeStoppers at 1-800-222-8477.
(Lexie Cannes writes The Guerrilla Angel Report!)
DETROIT - About 50 people showed up Sept. 21 for the launch of Who’s That Girl, a media project presented by the Horizons Project and supported by the Michigan Department of Community Health’s Health Disparities Reduction Minority Health Section. The project, which includes images of four young transgender women, is a marketing effort to change media and societal perceptions of the transgender community.
"The purpose of the campaign is to provide understanding about HIV, especially in the trans community," said Bre’ Campbell, the project’s coordinator. "A lot of times, when AIDS messages are put out they do not include trans women."
All of the women featured in the campaign are under the age of 25 and active in the community. Campbell said they illustrate that “regardless of what society thinks about trans women, they are smart, they are successful, they are educated and they are loved.”
The Horizons Project launched the campaign at a reception at Wayne State University’s Student Center. About 50 people attended, and after they ate and had an opportunity to view the images, they were witness to a very informative panel discussion featuring the four women who comprise the campaign.
"If you look at the photos, it shows that even though we are in some ways different, we are still human and can still blend in," said Sahray Arnold. "Even though we’re not all the same, we’re all the same inside and we’re all of value."
Mia Cole said she believes society at large is misinformed about trans women and only knows what they see on trash TV.
"Everyone thinks transgender women are what you see on Jerry Springer and that’s not it," she said. "We don’t walk down the street snatching our wigs off. We’re very smart and intelligent. You shouldn’t reject the unfamiliar because we have a lot to offer."
A fashion model and harpist, WSU student Ahya Simone said she hopes to help change society’s perception of trans women.
"I take joy in educating people about women like me," Simone said. "There are few [images] out there and I want to be that face. I just want to be a role model for girls like us, and women in general."
Not all discrimination comes from outside sources, though. The women all shared that they were often marginalized by others in the LGBT community.
"The ‘T’ is in there," said Krystina Edwards. "So I’m gonna need the L, the G, and the B to embrace us."
The images in the campaign were all shot by photographer Jhordan Haliburton.
"At first I was kind of nervous about it because it was my first professional photo shoot," he said. "But they came out great. I love them. They came out very wonderful."
Look for images from the campaign to appear in the pages of Between The Lines soon.
(Jason A. Michael, Originally printed 9/27/2012, Issue 2039 - Between The Lines News)
It was announced that local non-profit leader in AIDS services, Chicago House, was selected as one of eight national grant sites to study the link between HIV and retention in care of transgender women of color.
The study, which will be housed in Chicago House's all new TransLife Center (TLC), will allow $300,000 per year for the next five years from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) as a Special Program of National Significance.
The TLC programming will serve as a collaborative comprehensive and multi-strategy approach to identifying HIV-positive transgender women of color who are out of care, while engaging them successfully in accessible, quality HIV primary care.
In leveraging the resources and expertise of five project partners — AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Center on Halsted, Lurie Children’s Hospital, Heartland Health Outreach, and South Side Help Center — Chicago House will identify transgender women of color living with HIV, create a broad network of culturally competent healthcare providers, and deliver an array of services that help marginalized transgender women overcome barriers to care.
"The TransLife Center Programming will incorporate three tiers of support to the habitually overlooked "T" in the LGBT community," commented Chicago House CEO, Stan Sloan. ”TransHousing will provide a safe and understanding home to transgender men and women, through the rebirth of our original 24-hour-care building in Edgewater and multiple scattered site units throughout the city. TransWorks, an offshoot of our highly successful employment program, will work with trans men and women to identify their unique employment placement needs and prepare them for the workplace through resume writing, interview skills, and connections to culturally competent job opportunities.” Sloan continued, “The final element, TransHealth, will connect trans men and women to non judgmental health care addressing their unique needs through Dr. Rob Garafolo of Lurie Children’s Hospital.”
HRSA, an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the primary Federal agency for improving access to health care services for people who are uninsured, isolated or medically vulnerable.
”Chicago House remains committed to providing the best in services to the homeless and HIV affected, and the integral TransHealth funding from HRSA further validates the needs that we have identified within the transgender community,” Sloan said. ”The growth in reaching out to this population represents the same trailblazing growth our founders had in mind 27 years ago, and it is a wonderful next incarnation for our former hospice site. The transgender community has been so strategic and receptive in helping us develop the programs, and we are excited to begin this next step of Chicago House's history.”
(Chicago Go Pride)
If you drive up Charles Street past North Avenue late at night, you’re likely to glimpse the seamy world of prostitutes and the johns who pick them up. Many of the women standing on the street corners and (in the words of one frustrated resident) “draped over” the cars began life as boys and turned to prostitution around the time they made their transition to womanhood, feeling that, as one of them put it, “it’s the only way [for a transgender woman] to survive.” Eventually, however, the perspective often flips around, and they come to see that getting off the street is the only way to survive.
For this story, four transgender women, each of whom had very different experiences of prostitution and the transition to living as a woman, told us their stories and allowed us to take portraits of them. They try to support each other as part of the Beautiful Me Sorority. Though these stories are in no way representative of the entire transgender community, we feel they offer a glimpse of lives rarely seen in print. We allowed them to use the names they use on the streets or web sites where they ply their trade.
Bambi, a tall 24-year-old transgender woman with light skin, red hair, and a wicked wit, leans back against the wall in what is called graffiti alley, off North Howard Street and North Avenue. Several tour groups of new MICA students walk through, and a young country artist films a video at the other end of the alley, which has become an almost Disney-fied version of Baltimore grit. But Bambi remembers what it used to be like.
“I actually used to date in this alley sometimes,” she says. “It’s off the beaten path, no cops coming back here. I’m not going on my knees or anything, but it’s relatively clean. It feels full-circle. But I know I won’t have to come back here to work anymore.”
When Bambi talks about dating and working, she is talking about the same thing. She worked as a prostitute in the neighborhood for several years. Though many of the tricks blend together, Bambi can still recall her first night on the street. She was young and had recently made the transition from living as a gay man to living as a woman. She had a job and was complaining about money to a friend one day, and the friend told her that she knew how she could make easy money.
“I went out to Calvert and 23rd,” she recalls. “On my first night I hadn’t been there more than 10 minutes and I made $90—for a blowjob. Shit, $90 for five minutes—not even that—worth of work. This is when I was 20 and new to the scene. It is a strange sense of power at first. You don’t think about the danger or how you’re branding yourself socially. I was new to womanhood and it made me think, How pretty I am: There are 30 million girls out here, but he chose me.”
Bambi says that no other industry is as tied to appearance. “We’re not standing out there like this,” she says, miming a blowjob. “They can’t tell how good you do it. It’s all about how you look. Your self-esteem becomes monetary.”
On a good night, Bambi says she would make $400 in a short time, getting what she needed and then going home to avoid the ever-present dangers of incarceration and violence.
Bambi did experience both, however. She was robbed during her first week on the street. “I wasn’t street-smart,” she says. “I grew up with two parents. My mom owns a house in a Jewish neighborhood in Northwest Baltimore. I didn’t know what to look for.”
It was 2008 and a man picked her up. He asked if she wanted to go eat breakfast at an IHOP. It was a foggy night and she couldn’t tell where they were. The man was friendly as they kept talking.
“I was so naive, I just kept thinking, He really, really likes me,” she says, mimicking a ditzy voice. “Finally I noticed we were at Poplar Grove and I knew we were going in the wrong direction, and I started thinking, Is he going to shoot me now?”
They ended up in the woods, where the man put a “long gun” to Bambi’s head.
“He took everything. I was out there in the woods with one pump and a Rite Aid bag, in the fog,” she says. “It was four days before my 21st birthday. I was thankful for the situation because I knew what to look for” from then on.
She was robbed three other times. Once, when a man pulled a knife on her, she escaped. “Two weeks later, the police warned me about him,” she says. “I told them he had just tried to rob me. They said I was lucky because, after I got away, he had graduated to a gun and put a bullet through the next girl.”
The police, however, generally aren’t friendly to Bambi and others like her. “The cops are assholes. Fucking assholes. You meet a nice one every 5,000 years,” she says. “You’d think there would be more black officers in a largely black city. But they import these racist Anglo-Saxon cops from West Virginia who act like we’re not even citizens. ‘You’re not only a derelict negroid,’” she mimics a cop, “ ‘But a derelict negroid with a dick and a dress. What the fuck is wrong with you?’”
Bambi says she was arrested once while waiting for a bus on North Avenue at 7 A.M. “I suck dick for a living, but I wasn’t working then,” she says. “My real crime was being transgender on North Avenue. When they brought me into booking, everything stopped and they looked at me like I was a Martian. The female officer tried to be nice and get me a holding cell by myself, but the males said ‘Oh no, Beyonce don’t need a cell by himself.’ I was like, thanks for the compliment, but you know damn well I do.”
According to Bambi, the johns are almost as bad. “A lot of these guys are sick. The lowest of the low,” she says. “One guy offered me $500 to suck his dog’s dick—he said it was the dog’s birthday and he’d never had his dick sucked. But the worst was this guy who had a master-slave fantasy. He offered $300, and at first I was going to take it because I thought I’ve seen this before. I thought he wanted me to order him around. But he wanted to be a slave master. ‘So you want to have a house nigger?’ Uh-uh. As a black person, I couldn’t do that. My ancestors had to do that shit. But I should have taken his money for reparations.”
Photographs by J.M. Giordano
Eventually the lifestyle became more difficult to maintain. “I was 20 and I never paid attention at first to the fact that girls who were my age were talking about a trick five or six years earlier,” she says. “Then I was like ‘ohhh,’ as the girls got younger and younger. If you’re 20 and there is a 15-year-old standing there beside you, it don’t matter how pretty you are. They’ll take the 15-year-old. By 25, you’re washed up, and at 30, you’re dead.”
Bambi says she has largely retired from the trade, but admits it’s hard to escape. “It’s like drugs—not only using them but selling them. The cash flow, how quickly you can make money, it’s addictive,” she says. “I’ve clocked a 10-hour day [in retail] and made $80 and that’s taxed, and I know I can go to Charles and 21st and stand there an hour and make $100. You don’t always think about the night you got robbed or raped or arrested. You know you could die, even if you’re not going on the stroll, just being black and transgender in this city, just walking out on the street. But it’s easier to abstain when a girl has just died.”
Though she is a full-time psychology student and works a regular job, opportunities still arise. “I might be walking at the mall and not have any money and some guy walks up and offers you $80 to go into the bathroom with him. What the fuck are you going to do?”
Bria graduated from Morgan State and is in a graduate program at a local university. She plans to go to law school and specialize in civil rights cases. She is a large woman with deep black skin and a glowing smile.
“I transitioned when I was 20,” she says. “I always knew I was trans, but I was scared of what people would think and how I’d make a living. I was always my biggest critic. But I dressed as a girl for Halloween once and never came out of women’s clothes.”
Bria, now 23, was in college then. “I’ve been working since I was 15—I worked at Rite Aid, at a nonprofit working with the trans community,” she says. “But I needed to supplement. It’s expensive being trans. But it’s also just normal expenses. Rent, car—everybody needs money.” So she turned to prostitution.
“Not the streets, the internet,” she says.
Bria talked to older trans women who told her the streets were not what they were 10 years ago—they were more dangerous now. So she went on to Craigslist in the summer of 2010.
“We’d usually meet at a hotel,” she says. She acknowledges that it is still dangerous. “But talking online for a while, you can gauge the risk before being around them and not take the risk if it doesn’t feel right.”
On a good night, she would meet with three or four different men and bring home $500 0r $600.
“Most of the girls, we don’t want to do it, but the way things are built, it is really a game of survival,” she says. “I don’t have my self-esteem attached to it, but a goal.”
And though she still needs money, Bria is now in a committed relationship and no longer works in the trade, focusing instead on her studies.
bright eyed and short, Virgin Hellfire almost looks like she could star as the plucky best friend in a sitcom. Like most transgender people, she had a difficult time growing up, but her coming-out was, in some ways, more difficult than most. She is from Cambridge, Md., a town on the Eastern Shore, which she describes as “a three- or four-mile radius, birds and nature, and no civilization.”
There were only about 100 people in her graduating class, back when she was a he. “I was the only openly gay man in my school,” she says. “The only examples I had seen of trans women were Jerry Springer guests. I didn’t want to be one of those people, so I denied my gender.”
Still, by the time she graduated from school, she had also graduated to wearing makeup and women’s clothes, though she was not yet trying to pass. The day she took her SAT, she left for Atlanta, which she describes as the “epicenter for gay black people.”
As she began to discover her identity in the big city, she also began to discover “a lot of shady business—prostitution and identity theft were the most common.” Virgin says she was trained by her roommate “to do everything she knew how to do, good and bad, and I developed an affinity for fast money.”
Eventually, however, Virgin’s sense of small-town morality took over and she began to dream of “white picket fences.” She moved back to Maryland and began to attend Coppin State while also beginning her transition to womanhood, starting hormone replacement therapy in 2007. As happens to many people going through this difficult transition, she fell into depression and returned to the shore, where, after some adjustment, her mother and grandmother embraced her and began to teach her aspects of being a woman. Her father, a career criminal, was in prison and so she was largely protected from his judgment.
As part of her transition, Virgin tried prostitution. “I went on one date, but I wasn’t comfortable with it. I’m the only girl I know who doesn’t do it,” she says. “So I became a tranny pimp. I majored in computer science and so I used the internet to book dates for all my friends. I’d go on the streets with them and be [a] security guard. When they got in a car, I’d follow to make sure they were safe.”
Virgin Hellfire and her stable worked in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Atlanta, and Charlottesville. Most of the johns were looking for trans women and she says her biggest seller could easily make a $1,000 a day. “That would be $250 cash for me. But it didn’t matter, because they also paid my expenses. That was just spending money.”
Eventually that sense of morality and the dreams of the white picket fence won out again. In 2008, she walked away from the life. She works as a hair stylist and studies business marketing at Baltimore City Community College. “I’m in a relationship with a trans man now,” she says, and though they are taking it slow, she thinks it might work out and dreams that they might have children “the natural way.”
When asked if she is planning to get gender reassignment surgery, Virgin shakes her head. “I ain’t nobody’s guinea pig. Those techniques are all experimental now. I like my orgasms too much. Nobody’s going to take my orgasms from me.”
Kasey obviously works in fashion; she has an unfakeable sense of style. But she also works as a caretaker for the elderly and an advocate for transgender issues.
“I worked on the streets one time. And the only time, I got locked up,” she says. She says that she felt it was a lucky occurrence. “That night, it had to happen. It was meant to happen. I was used to working, but it was at a point in my life where I’d just lost my job. I didn’t live actually far so I could just go like I was walking to the store and nobody would know actually what I was doing.”
It was April 2010. She walked to the corner of Maryland Avenue and 24th Street. She stood there for 20 minutes and a car pulled up. “We talked, he tried to make me feel comfortable,” she says. “One of the first things that should have went off is I got in the back seat. I didn’t get in the passenger seat. But I wasn’t used to it, it was something I didn’t do and I didn’t know. And besides I was already scared. I was really scared.”
But Kasey and the man started talking and she began to feel more comfortable.
“He said he went to MICA and I told him what I did and he said ‘Oh, you seem like a really cool person.’ We agreed on a price and then he just made an abrupt turn and said, ‘I hate to break it to you, I’m the police.’”
Kasey says that the officer told her that he felt really bad about it, but he took her to jail and she sat in the parking lot until they rounded up about 10 or 15 other people. She was booked, but she says the officer felt sorry for her and put her back in the paddy wagon and dropped her back off on 25th.
“He dropped me off midway home and it was like, ‘Take your butt in the house and deal with it in some other kind of way.’ Even though times get rough, I might consider it but it’s like, ‘No.’ There’s been too many stories about us found in abandoned buildings. It’s too dangerous. Too risky. I would rather face discrimination going and filling out a job application than standing on the corner.”
(Baynard Woods, City Paper)
Your Take: LGBT-rights advocates urge the DOJ to investigate the killings of black transgender women.
On Aug. 14 Tiffany Gooden, 19, a black transgender woman, was stabbed to death on Chicago’s West Side. She was found dead just three blocks from where Paige Clay, 23, another black transgender woman, was discovered in April with a gunshot wound to the head. Just four days after Gooden’s killing, Kendall L. Hampton, 26, also a transgender woman, was shot in the parking lot of a Dairy Mart in Cincinnati.
Their murders are jarring reminders of the injustice that transgender women of color face. In fact, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (pdf) has reported that violence against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people has increased 23 percent from 2009 to 2010, with people of color and transgender women as the most common victims. Of the victims murdered in 2010, 70 percent were people of color, while 44 percent were transgender women.
"Stop killing and beating down my family," says Sharon Lettman-Hicks, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “As a mother, sister and advocate, I am deeply troubled by the violence that plagues our trans sisters. I’m even more saddened by our level of indifference and inaction. Where is the outcry?”
The black and civil rights communities are shamefully silent when victims of violence are black and transgender. That is why the NBJC, the nation’s leading black LGBT civil rights organization; the Hip Hop Caucus, a civil and human rights organization that aims to promote political activism for young U.S. voters, using hip-hop music and culture; and the Trans People of Color Coalition, a national social-justice organization that promotes the interests of transgender people of color, are calling on the Department of Justice to establish a special task force to investigate the serial and systemic murders of countless transgender women of color who are attacked for living their truth. These groups are urging all civil rights leaders and community members to join their appeal to consciousness and action.
In fact, more than 200 black LGBT leaders, activists and allies will gather Sept. 19-22 in Washington, D.C., for the NBJC’s third annual OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit. Along with compelling briefings, a Black LGBT Leaders Day at the White House, Lobbying Day and meetings with members of Congress, OUT on the Hill will convene a groundbreaking panel (pdf) of black transgender women and advocates to address the epidemic of murders against this segment of the black community.
Stories like Gooden’s and Hampton’s represent a larger system of violence toward black transgender women. Their cases are part of an ongoing string of violence and mass murders against transgender women of color. “I want you to meet my family,” says Lettman-Hicks when she recalls the litany of black transgender women who have been killed within the last year. “We should intimately know all these women’s names and their stories.”
In Oakland, Calif., Brandy Martell, 37, was shot on April 29 in her genitals and then her chest after sharing that she was transgender. Coko Williams, another transgender woman of color, was found dead in April on a Detroit block with her throat slashed and one bullet wound. Deoni Jones, 22, a transgender woman, was fatally stabbed on Feb. 2 in Washington, D.C. An altercation between the victim and her attacker broke out at the bus stop, which resulted in the victim being stabbed in the face.
In November 2011, family, friends and community members mourned the loss of Shelley Hilliard, 19, a transgender woman who was reported missing. Weeks later, police were able to identify a burned torso found on Detroit’s East Side as belonging to Hilliard, who was also known as Treasure. Lashai Mclean, 23, a transgender woman, was tragically shot and killed last July in Washington, D.C. Mclean was with another transgender woman in the very early morning when she was gunned down in the District’s Northeast section. She was pronounced dead shortly after being transported to a local hospital.
And those are just some of the attacks we know of. Many more go unreported and garner little to no media attention. Aug. 12 marked the 10-year anniversary of the deaths of Ukea Davis and Stephanie Thomas, two transgender teenagers who were murdered execution style in Washington, D.C. Each of them was shot 10 times in the head and upper body.
By the time medical rescue workers arrived at the corner of 50th and C streets SE, both victims were dead. They died at the same corner where Tyra Hunter, another African-American transgender woman, lay dying after a car crash in 1995 as fire department medical technicians laughed and withdrew emergency care upon discovering that she was transgender.
Davis’ and Thomas’ murders remain unsolved.
"I’m appalled at how little has been done by the black and civil rights communities to fight for and protect transgender women," says the Rev. Lennox Yearwood Jr., president and CEO of the Hip Hop Caucus. "It’s time to break our silence and mobilize the way we did for Occupy Wall Street and Trayvon Martin."
Some mobilization has been taking place within the black LGBT community. For instance, the TransFaith in Color Conference, an empowerment-and-networking summit for transgender people of color and their allies, recently took place in Charlotte, N.C.
But the black LGBT community cannot and should not have to do this work alone. When transgender women do fight back in an attempt to defend themselves, they risk being criminalized by a system that doesn’t have their best interests in mind. A system that has for centuries ravaged communities of color. A system we must all challenge.
Take CeCe McDonald, for instance, a black transgender hate-crime survivor currently being housed in a men’s facility. After being verbally and physically assaulted, McDonald fatally stabbed her attacker in alleged self-defense. She later accepted a plea deal to second-degree manslaughter and was sentenced to 41 months in a male prison, where she will be subjected to physical and sexual assault — a blatant example of institutional biases against black and transgender people.
"It is unfortunate that in CeCe’s case, as in so many, the hate crime itself was overlooked entirely," explains Kylar Broadus, executive director of the Trans People of Color Coalition, an NBJC board member and the first transgender person to testify before the Senate about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. “On top of blaming and prosecuting the victim, she is placed in harm’s way once again. We won’t rest until there is justice for our fallen black trans sisters who are disproportionally targeted and killed because of who they are. We won’t rest until there is justice for CeCe, Tiffany, Kendall, Ukea and Stephanie.”
Enough is enough. We must speak up and speak out. Now. How will you ensure that our family is not forgotten? Learn more about the upcoming OUT on the Hill Black LGBT Leadership Summit here. It’s time to come together and own our collective power.
(Kimberley McLeod, The Root)
Kimberley McLeod is a Washington, D.C.-based freelance writer and LGBT advocate. She is director of communications and press secretary at the National Black Justice Coalition, as well as creator and editor of Elixher.com, a resource for multidimensional representations of black LGBT women.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.
Government continues to seek grand jury indictment for man accused of stabbing Deoni Jones to death
The District man accused of stabbing a transgender woman in the face in February has been assigned a new defense lawyer while the government proceeds forward with the case against him.
Thomas Dybdahl, representing for Gary Niles Montgomery, notified the court at an Aug. 31 status hearing that he was stepping down as defense counsel and would be replaced by Anthony Matthews. Montgomery, 55, of Northeast Washington, faces a charge of second-degree murder while armed for allegedly stabbing Deoni Jones while she was waiting at a bus stop in the city’s Benning Heights neighborhood.
Judge Robert E. Morin noted that the case against Montgomery has been active for almost seven months, and asked Assistant U.S. Attorney David Gorman, speaking on behalf of the government, if the government wished to proceed with the case.
Gorman told Morin that the government will continue to seek a grand jury indictment against Montgomery, and Morin granted an extension for the government to make its case before the grand jury in hopes of obtaining that indictment so the government can bring the case to trial. Morin also scheduled Montgomery for a follow-up felony status hearing on Oct. 12.
Montgomery remains held without bond as he awaits his next court date.
Jones was stabbed in the face on the evening of Feb. 2 while waiting at a bus stop at the intersection of East Capitol Street and Sycamore Road NE. She was later transported to Prince George’s Hospital Center in Cheverly, Md., where she died in the early morning hours of Feb. 3.
Montgomery was arrested eight days later following a weeklong manhunt during which the Metropolitan Police Department posted video footage of their prime suspect on YouTube and asked community members to help identify Jones’s assailant. Shortly after being arrested, Montgomery underwent a mental observation and was judged competent to stand trial.
(John Riley, MetroWeekly)