Image by Advocate/Trudy Ring-Writer

The epidemic of violence against transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people continues in the U.S. While the reported number of violent deaths among this population has gone down somewhat since 2021 set a record with 57, there are likely many more deaths that go unreported or inaccurately reported due to deadnaming and misgendering. Many of those killed are women of color, indicating an intersection of racism, transphobia, and sexism that contributes to the danger trans people face. Read on to learn about those we’ve lost so far this year, some of whom have been killed by authority figures.

Jasmine “Star” Mack

Jasmine "Star" Mack

Black transgender woman Jasmine “Star” Mack, 36, was stabbed to death January 7 in Washington, D.C., the first reported violent death of a trans person in the U.S. in 2023. She found lying on a street “in an unconscious and unresponsive state with an apparent stab wound to their right leg,” according to a police report. She had no fixed address at the time of her death. No arrest has been made.

Friends and family remember her fondly. “She loved everybody,” her sister Pamela Witherspoon told TV station WUSA. “Most of all I’m going to miss her saying ‘I love you sister, I love you.'”

Trans activist Earline Budd knew Mack as a client of HIPS, a social services organization. “She was really one for the books,” Budd told WUSA. Mack was high-spirited and “would always keep you laughing,” she said.

KC Johnson

KC Johnson

KC Johnson of Wilmington, N.C., was last seen alive January 12 or 13, and police believe she was killed January 13. Her remains were found in April on the Savannah River in Georgia. Police have arrested William Hicks, 26, of South Carolina, and he is charged with first-degree murder, robbery with a dangerous weapon, and kidnapping. Police say he met Johnson on social media.

Johnson was a native of Wilmington who attended Abide University and worked as manager of a Domino’s. Her partner, Bulla Brodzinski, described Johnson as the love of her life.

“I think any time we have someone from within the community — the LGBTQ community as a whole but especially the trans and nonbinary community — when they’re murdered it’s an immediate message to us that something is happening that we’re already familiar with,” Caroline Morin, executive director of the LGBTQ Center of the Cape Fear Coast, told TV station WWAY. “So a big thing that kind of comes for us next is what’s going to happen as our community going to respond appropriately. Will some sense of justice happen in this instance, and then what do we do to keep moving forward for those of us who are left behind?”

Manuel Esteban Paez Terán

Manuel Esteban Paez Ter\u00e1n

Manuel Esteban Paez Terán, a queer, nonbinary environmental activist, was shot to death by police in Atlanta January 18. Terán, 26, who went by the name “Tortuguita,” or “Little Turtle,” was part of a group of protesters encamped in a forested area to take a stand against a police training center under construction there.

Georgia authorities say Terán shot and wounded a Georgia State Patrol officer, who returned fire, killing the activist. But Terán’s mother, Belkis Terán, told The Guardian, “I’m convinced that [Terán] was assassinated in cold blood.” The Georgia Bureau of Investigation said the bullet taken from the officer’s body came from a gun possessed by Terán, but the activist’s family and fellow protesters are not convinced.

A report from the DeKalb County medical examiner, released in April, indicated Terán was shot at least 57 times and did not have gunshot residue on their hands. The case remains under investigation.

Maria Jose Rivera Rivera

Maria Jose Rivera Rivera

Latinx transgender woman Maria Jose Rivera Rivera was killed in January in Houston in an apparent murder-suicide by her intimate partner.

Her body was found January 21, but she may have been dead for up to three days, according to local media. Neighbors had reported an odor coming from Rivera’s apartment, and they saw that the mail had been piling up. The cause of death has not been released.

Rivera, 22, was an immigrant from El Salvador. Her immigration attorney, Cristian Sanchez at RAICES Texas, told the Human Rights Campaign that all evidence indicates that she was killed by her intimate partner.

“Maria Jose was a joy to work with,” he said in a statement to HRC. “I always looked forward to speaking with her. She was lively, funny, and dynamic. My heart hurts from her loss. Transgender people who are immigrants suffer two levels of oppression and marginalization from society. This makes them especially vulnerable to harm. The transgender immigrant community deserves respect and safety.”

Unique Banks

Unique Banks

Unique Banks, a 21-year-old Latinx transgender woman, was fatally shot during a home invasion in Chicago January 23.

Banks’s mother, Alexsandra Olmo, was also killed in the invasion of the family’s apartment. Three other people — Olmo’s boyfriend and two trans women — were seriously wounded, a law enforcement source told the Chicago Sun-Times. The source added that there was no evidence of anti-trans motivation, although police said the attack was not random.

But Banks’s father, Omar Burgos, said many questions remain. “Nobody just goes to your house and just starts killing people,” Burgos, who lives in Orlando, told the Sun-Times. “Something happened, but what happened? I don’t know.”

He said he worried about Banks and her two siblings after he moved to Florida, where he is a mechanic for American Airlines, more than a decade ago. He had hoped she would come to Florida to live with him, he said, noting that his “heart is torn apart.”

The Chicago Police Department released a statement saying the department “is still investigating this incident and will provide additional information after speaking with people close to the victims, out of respect for the victims and their families.”

Zachee Imanitwitaho

Zachee Imanitwitaho

Zachee Imanitwitaho, a 26-year-old Black transgender woman, was shot and killed just outside her workplace in Louisville, Ky., February 3.

Zachee had immigrated to the U.S. from Rwanda in 2019 and worked at the JBS meat-processing plant in Louisville. A coworker at the plant, Edilberto Lores-Reyes, 58, has been charged with her murder. Police say he turned himself in.

Police have not stated a motive for the crime, but another coworker, who did not give her name to local media, said she believes Zachee was killed because she was trans. She was well-liked by many of her colleagues. “She was always happy. Always walking down the hallways smiling,” the anonymous coworker said. “Even when she knew they were talking about her, she didn’t care. She was always happy.”

On a GoFundMe page raising money for funeral expenses, her family said, “We are heartbroken that her conviction to live her life as herself may have led to her death. Zachee was a light to those around her and we are memorializing her so that her light can live on after her death.”

Cashay Henderson

Cashay Henderson

The body of Black transgender woman Cashay Henderson was found in a burning apartment building in Milwaukee February 26. She had been fatally shot before the fire was set.

Henderson was 31 years old and had lived in Milwaukee before recently returning to Chicago, where she was born. She attended Dunbar Vocational High School and Prologue Early College High School in Chicago, and she was later active with a Milwaukee organization called Sisters Helping Each Other Battle Adversity. She went by the name Gemini Shanti with SHEBA. The group tweeted a tribute to her, saying, “She was nothing less than a joy to be around.” Another Wisconsin organization, the Black Rose Initiative, tweeted that Henderson was “a great friend and great influencer in our community.”

Cordell M. Howze, 33, of Neenah, Wis., was charged a few days later with “first-degree reckless homicide and possession of a firearm by a convicted felon,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports.

Howze had been in jail until two days before Henderson’s death. He was taken into custody in Winnebago County, Wis., January 28 “for violating terms of his extended supervision from a prior felony conviction,” according to the Journal Sentinel. He had fled from police the day before. He was released February 24. Winnebago County prosecutors filed charges February 27 in connection with his flight.

Ashley Burton

Ashley Burton

Black transgender woman Ashley Burton, a 37-year-old hairstylist and makeup artist in Atlanta, was shot to death at her apartment complex April 11. Burton’s body was found shortly after 4:30 a.m. in the breezeway of her building, according to local media. Police and her loved ones say she likely knew her killer.

“She ran out of the house, hollering and screaming, beating on doors,” her cousin Ivory Carter told Atlanta TV station WXIA. “This got to be personal. You shot her in her house, then you followed her outside and shot her.”

Burton and Carter grew up together in South Carolina. “She was a sweetheart,” Carter said. “She wasn’t nasty. She wasn’t disrespectful. She just wanted to live her life.”

Carter added, “I’m tired of all these incidents with transgender women just being pushed up under the rug. We are human beings.”

Patrick Burton, the victim’s brother, told Atlanta station WAGA that “Ashley was very loved all the way across the board, like from South Carolina to Atlanta.”

Tasiyah “Siyah” Woodland

Tasiyah \u201cSiyah\u201d Woodland

Tasiyah “Siyah” Woodland, an 18-year-old Black transgender woman, was found shot to death March 24 near a bar in Mechanicsville, Md.

Deputies from the St. Mary County Sheriff’s Office were called to the parking lot of the Big Dogs in Paradise bar in Mechanicsville due to a report that gunshots were fired. They found Woodland nearby, dead after being shot several times.

St. Mary’s County sheriff’s deputies and District of Columbia detectives arrested Darryl Carlton Parks Jr., 29, in D.C. March 28. He faces charges including first-degree murder and second-degree murder. St. Mary’s County authorities said there was “some type of confrontation” before she was killed, but they don’t believe her gender identity was a factor in the crime. Her family contends, however, that she was the victim of a hate crime.

Woodland, who lived in Lexington Park, Md., had attended Great Mills High School and was studying at the College of Southern Maryland. She worked at a Hollister clothing store.

“She had multiple social media profiles, but – heartbreakingly – set up what she described as her ‘new & last page’ two days before her death,” Sue Kerr reports at Pittsburgh Lesbian Correspondents. “She had hopes, ambitions, dreams. She celebrated her accomplishments and triumphs. All things she deserved, things ripped away from her by gun violence and the transphobia and misogynoir that permeates our society.”

Her family started a GoFundMe campaign to cover funeral expenses. The page describes Woodland as “high spirited and protective of those she loved.” After her mother’s death, Woodland “got the courage to start living in her truth and started her transition, which her family accepted with open arms,” the page notes.

Koko Da Doll

Koko Da Doll

Koko Da Doll, one of the stars of the documentary Kokomo City, was found dead April 18 in Atlanta. She was 35.

Koko, whose non-performance name was Rasheeda Williams, starred in the Sundance Film Festival documentary Kokomo City along with Daniella Carter, Liyah Mitchell and Dominique Silve. The documentary depicts the lives of several Black transgender sex workers who live in Atlanta and New York City. It has been lauded for its realistic depiction of the various ways the women navigate their identities and their work.

Atlanta police found Koko with a gunshot wound around 11 p.m. at a shopping center. Authorities announced her dead at the scene.

“Rasheeda, aka Koko Da Doll, was the latest victim of violence against Black transgender women,” Kokomo City director D. Smith, who is also a Black transgender woman, wrote on Instagram. “It’s extremely difficult to process Koko’s passing, but as a team we are more encouraged now than ever to inspire the world with her story.”

Besides appearing in the film, Koko was a rapper.

“I will be the reason there’s more opportunities and doors opening for transgender girls,” Koko once wrote on Instagram. “What you’ve done here for me is going to save a lot of lives.”

A 17-year-old male, whose name was not released, was arrested April 26 in connection with Koko’s death. He turned himself in after Atlanta police issued a warrant for murder, aggravated assault, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony.

Banko Brown

Banko Brown

Black transgender man Banko Brown, 24, was shot to death by a security guard April 27 near a Walgreens in San Francisco.

The guard, Michael Earl-Wayne Anthony, was arrested on suspicion of homicide, but San Francisco District Attorney Brooke Jenkins decided not to prosecute him on that charge. “The evidence clearly shows that the suspect believed he was in mortal danger and acted in self-defense,” said a statement from Jenkins, who has been widely criticized for her decision. Police said Brown was not armed. Jenkins has said the case remains under investigation and that other charges may be brought.

Brown was experiencing homelessness and sometimes spent the night on Bay Area Rapid Transit trains. He was seeking housing while also trying to help others, working as a community organizing intern with the Young Women’s Freedom Center, which assists young women and trans youth who have experienced poverty and other difficulties.

“Banko was a loving person,” Julia Arroyo, co-executive director of the center, said at a rally on Brown’s behalf. “Every time Banko walked into the center, he was surrounded by small children and a gang of people around him. And even when he was turned away from doors, he still brought people to get resources.”

All images courtesy of The Advocate

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