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2021 Ends as Deadliest Year on Record, with 56 Trans Victims of Lethal Violence

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday January 6, 2022

Protesters gather in front of the White House in October for a #WontBeErased rally after reports that the Trump administration plans to exclude transgender and nonbinary people from its legal definition of gender.
Protesters gather in front of the White House in October for a #WontBeErased rally after reports that the Trump administration plans to exclude transgender and nonbinary people from its legal definition of gender.  (Source:Associated Press)

The new year was only a few hours old when the trans community suffered the first fatality of 2022: Amarey Lej a 21-year-old trans woman of color who was found shot dead in a city street.

But the old year had already reached a sobering milestone for the killings of transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals. With reports of the December 28 death of Ke'Yahonna Stone, 32, 2021's tally reached a new record: 56 known victims of deadly anti-trans violence.

The Human Rights Campaign, which tracks lethal violence targeting trans and gender-nonconforming people, reported that Stone "was about to further her activism work for the trans community through a new job with Trans Solutions and Research & Resource Center when she suffered a gunshot to the head after attempting to intervene in a fight at a nightclub in Indianapolis, Indiana.

"She was pulled off of life support two days later and died on December 28, 2021," the HRC article added.

Stone's shooting death marked the 51st known fatality resulting from violence directed at trans and gender-nonconforming people in 2021. After her death, five more victims came to light, including Za'niyah Williams, 21, died on Dec. 20 after a hit and run in Dallas, Texas, and Nikki Turietta, 33, who was shot and killed in Albuquerque, New Mexico, on Dec. 31.

The other three were victims from earlier in 2021 who were not identified as trans until later. They included Rubi Dominguez, who died in Arlington, Texas, on July 16 in a hit and run, and was subsequently "misgendered in some media and police reports," the HRC noted; Keeva Scatter, 34, who was found shot to death in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Oct. 15, and who as similarly misgendered by the media and police; and Martina Caldera, who was found shot to death in Houston, Texas, on Dec. 6.

The true death toll may be even higher, the HRC noted, thanks to media and institutional misgendering and misreporting. As the above examples show, trans victims may only be identified as such weeks or months later, if at all.

Previously, 2020 had seen the highest toll, with 44 known victims of deadly transphobic violence.

Stone's was killed less than a month after that of Nikai David, a 33-year-old trans woman of color who was gunned down in Oakland, California, on Dec. 4, 2021.

"According to a news report, police officers responded to a shooting on Castro Street in West Oakland where they found Nikai suffering from gunshot wounds," the HRC detailed. "She died at the scene."

David's murder followed the Nov. 13 shooting death of Danyale Thompson, a 35-year-old trans woman of color, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Cris Blehar, 65, a white trans woman and military veteran, was killed in her home in May, but her status as a trans victim of deadly violence was not reported until this month. A suspect in the case has been apprehended and charged, the HRC reported.

More recently, Angela Naira, 36, a trans woman of color, was found shot to death at her home in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.

Naira's murder followed that of Jenny De Leon, "a 25-year-old Latina transgender woman who was found dead in Tampa, Florida, on Nov. 2," the HRC reported.

Naira's death also followed that of Marquiisha Lawrence, "a 28-year-old Black transgender woman [who] was fatally shot in Greenville, South Carolina, on Nov. 4," the HRC recounted in a news release.

Lawrence's death followed that of drag performer Rikkey Outumuro, also known as Tru Starlet, "a 39-year-old Latina transgender woman who was fatally shot in Centralia, WA. on the night of October 30 or the morning of October 31, 2021," the HRC documented.

Only a few days earlier, on Oct. 27, the body of 42-year-old Jessi Hart was found in a wooded area about 25 miles outside of Portland, Oregon. Police estimated that Hart had been dead for two weeks by the time her remains were found, and called her death "suspicious." Hart's cart — originally black — was found later on, and had been "spray-painted white," news reports said.

Reports of Hart's death followed the Oct. 26 shooting death of Jo Acker, 26, an Army veteran who was working as a security guard at a shopping mall in Boise, Idaho, when she was killed by the perpetrator of a mass shooting. Reports said that Acker responded to the gunfire by running toward the shooter, and that her actions likely saved lives.

25-year-old Mel Groves, a Black transgender man who died of gunshot wounds in Jackson, Mississippi on Oct. 11.

NBC News detailed that "Groves drove himself to Merit Health Central, a hospital in Jackson, where he lived, and collapsed outside his car, Jackson police said. He had been shot multiple times. Hospital staff members transferred him to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, where he died later in the afternoon."

Groves' shooting death followed that of 26-year-old Royal Poetical Starz, a Black trans woman, who "was fatally shot in Miami Gardens, Florida on Oct. 2," HRC reported.

The HRC also documented the death of Kiér Laprí Kartier, "a 21-year-old Black transgender woman [who] was fatally shot in Arlington, Texas on Sept. 30".

Brianna Hamilton, who was murdered on Sept. 17 according to a Facebook post by the Brave Space Alliance, an LGBTQ+ Center located in Chicago's South Side.

"Brianna Hamilton rest in power my luv, she was found two days ago killed on the south side of Chicago," the Sept. 18 post read.

Hamilton was killed less than two weeks after the murder of D'isaya Monaee Smith, who was shot to death in the early hours of Sept. 3. Smith had been staying with friends at a motel in Dolton, Ill., for Labor Day Weekend; her friends went out for the evening, but Smith opted to stay in. When her friends returned, they found Smith dead of a gunshot wound.

Smith's shooting death followed that of 20-year-old Zoella 'Zoey' Rose Martinez, whom the HRC reported was "a Latina trans woman" Martinez "was fatally shot in Maple Valley, Washington... on Aug. 31, 2021. Her body was later found in Seattle. Initial reports did not recognize Zoey as transgender until her family confirmed her identity" months later, in October.

25-year-old trans woman of color Pooh Johnson died after being shot multiple times in Shreveport, Louisiana, on Aug. 23. Police found her body in a vehicle around 5:30 a.m.

Johnson's murder followed the Aug. 7 murder of another trans woman of color, CoCo Chanel Wortham, also known as Miss Coco, who was shot to death on Aug. 7 in Dallas, Texas.

Tierramarie Lewis, 36, was shot and in Cleveland on June 12. Due to misgendering and deadnaming, Lewis' status as a trans woman was not reported about a month and a half after her death. Adding to the confusion, reports said, was Lewis' deadname having been used on her death certificate, despite Lewis having legally changed her name.

Reports of Lewis' murder came after the killing of Shai Vanderpump, 23, who was shot and killed in Trenton, New Jersey on July 30. Police found Vanderpump in her apartment, shot in the face. She was pronounced dead at a hospital not long afterwards.

Vanderpump's killing followed the July 17 murder of 20-year-old Taya Ashton in Suitland, Maryland. Ashton was shot and killed in her apartment; a suspect was arrested.

Aidelen Evans died in Port Arthur, Texas. Though her body was discovered in a canal in March and her death deemed "suspicious," police did not verify that she was a homicide victim until months later.

Evans' death being classified as a murder followed the abduction and shooting of trans teen Oliver Taylor in May. Taylor was hospitalized, but died of his injuries on May 19.

Thomas Hardin was killed in his home; his body was discovered on May 2. Hardin identified as a woman, reports said, but kept the name Thomas and used both male and female pronouns. Two suspects were apprehended.

Poe Black, a 21-year-old member of the Wyandotte Nation whom reports described as a "warrior" battling for the rights of two-spirit people and other sexual minorities, was murdered on May 7 in Slab City, California. Reports said he was stabbed multiple times, and his body dumped into the Coachella Canal.

EJ Boykin, also known as Novaa Watson, a 23-year-old Black transgender man, was shot and killed in Lynchburg, Virginia on June 14. Police said they did not suspect his death to be a hate crime.

Boston transgender activist Jahaira DeAlto, 42, a member of the ballroom scene, was stabbed to death in her home on April 2, along with another woman.

DeAlto's killing followed the April 24 shooting death of Tiffany Thomas, who was shot and killed in Dallas, Texas. Reports said that news of Thomas' death was delayed due to denials by Thomas' family that she identified as trans and by initial misgendering and deadnaming in stories about the killing.

Iris Santos, 22, was shot to death in Houston a day earlier, on April 23, by an unidentified assailant as she sat a picnic table, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Also on April 23, drag performer Natalia Smut was stabbed to death in Milpitas, California. The suspect, her boyfriend, turned himself in. Two days earlier, Tiara Banks, 24, an African-American trans woman, died when a gunman opened fire, killing her as she sat in her car.

Remy Fennell, also an African-American trans woman in her 20s, was gunned down in Charlotte, NC on April 15. Dominique Luscious, 28, was shot to death in Springfield, Missouri, on April 8 — mere days after the April 4 murder of Jaida Peterson, 29, whose body was found in a hotel room in Charlotte, NC. Both were trans women of color.

Latina trans woman Rayanna Pardo, 26, died in Los Angeles on March 17 after being struck by a car under suspicious circumstances.

23-year-old Diamond Kyree Sanders was shot to death in Cincinnati, Ohio, March 3, exactly one week after Jenna Franks was found dead in a wooded area in Jacksonville, North Carolina, on Feb. 24.

Jeffrey "JJ" Bright, 16, and his non-binary sibling, Jasmine Cannady, 22, were both slain Feb. 22 in Ambridge, Pennsylvania.

A few days earlier, Chyna Carillo was beaten to death by a 33-year-old ex-con, even as police officers ordered the man to stop. When he refused and continued to beat Carillo, police shot and killed the man.

Four trans women of color were murdered in a span of just under three weeks in various locales around the country, from mid-January to early February.

In a rash of four murders in less than three weeks, Bianca "Muffin" Banks died of gunshot wounds in Atlanta, Georgia January 17; Dominique Jackson was gunned down in Jackson, Miss., Jan. 25; Fifty Bandz, 21, was shot and killed in Baton Rouge Jan. 28; and Alexus Braxton was found dead in Miami Feb. 4.

Their deaths followed those of Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín, a trans man who was discovered with numerous bullet wounds in Puerto Rico Jan. 11, and Tyianna "Davarea" Alexander, a transgender woman of color, who was shot and killed in Chicago on Jan. 6.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.