Transgender women of color lead vigil on those murdered this year
By Rick Braatz
In the evening of Thursday, March 2, more than 80 people surrounded the Hillcrest Pride Flag at the corner of University Avenue and Normal Street in Hillcrest, for a vigil that recognized the transgender women of color who have been murdered in the United States this year.
“Seven,” Tracie Jada O’Brien, local transgender community advocate, shouted into the microphone.
“Seven,” those gathered called out in response.
“Seven,” O’Brien repeated, her voice now rising.
“Seven,” the audience hollered, their volume following suit.
“Seven,” O’Brien repeated again, even louder.
“Seven,” the audience shouted higher, seemingly to meet O’Brien’s decibel.
“That’s too fucking many! Too. Fucking. Many!” O’Brien shouted, halting her words for impact. “Too many sisters of us have been murdered, annihilated — and it’s too many!”
Seven transgender women of color have been murdered in the U.S. in the first two months of 2017 alone, according to various media reports.
“They are killing us, they are ceasing our lives,” O’Brien — a transgender woman of color herself — said. “We are here to honor that, to mourn and move forward.”
Syra Evans, a local transgender woman of color activist, spoke next. She had many questions for the attendees, many of whom held candles and signs that sought to remember the lost lives.
“Where do I begin, you guys?” Evans asked the crowd. “Where do we begin? … Where do we go from here? … How do we rise from it? That is the question I am seeking to answer for myself, for my family, for my community.”
Following Evans, Jelecia King, another local transgender woman of color, encouraged attendees to unite against the barbarity.
“Seven of our sisters have been killed this year just for trying to be trans and be alive and just live,” she said. “This has to end. We have to stand together. … People should not have to go to the store and get murdered, to be chased trying to survive, to be murdered. It has to end.”
King then read some statistics on violence against transgender people.
“44 percent of transgender people attempt suicide,” King began. “64 percent of young trans people are bullied. 73 percent of trans people are harassed in public … 21 percent of trans people avoid going out in public due to fear.
After King, O’Brien came back to the mic and again hollered, “Seven!”
“Seven!” the audience responded.
“It’s nothing new. I’m 65, and they’ve been killing us since I first came out in 1970,” O’Brien said. “It’s nothing fucking new. They’ve been killing us probably from the beginning of time.”
O’Brien then read the names of the transgender women of color that have been murdered in the U.S. this year.
- Keke Collier, 24, who was in school studying medical assistance in Chicago.
- Jaquarrius Holland, 18, who lived in Monroe, Louisiana, and had a passion for hairstyling and makeup.
- JoJo Striker, 41, who was a transgender community advocate in Toledo, Ohio.
- Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28, who was studying nursing and social work in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
- Mesha Caldwell, 41, who was a makeup artist and hairstylist in Canton, Mississippi.
- Chyna Doll Dupree, 31, who performed drag in New Orleans.
- Ciara McElveen, 25, a homeless outreach worker, also from New Orleans.
While reading the names, O’Brien also described some of the ways the women were killed.
“Ciara McElveen … was snatched out of a car, her head slammed against a curb, and then she was shot,” O’Brien said. “Chyna was leaving a restaurant the Saturday before last and she was shot. Not once. Not two. Not three. Not four. Not five. Not six. Not seven. Not eight. Not nine. But 10 times! They shot her 10 times!”
Venice Price, a local transgender community member, then came to the mic and sang a portion of a gospel song that included some lyrical changes.
“I feel like going on.
I feel like going on though trials.
They may come on every hand, oh I feel like feel like going on.
I feel like going on.
I feel like fighting on though trials.
They may come on every hand, but we got to keep on fighting on!”
When Price concluded the song, O’Brien returned and offered some solutions to the tragedy.
“Where do we go from here?” O’Brien asked those attending the vigil. “Legislation, primary care, housing. Just to see me. Just to see me and not look through me. Just to see me and recognize me. Just to see me and respect me. Just to see me and realize that I am no different than whom you are. I am human and these seven people were human as well.”
From there, O’Brien and the audience concluded the vigil with the word that started it.
“Seven!” O’Brien cried out.
“Seven!” the audience hollered back.
“Seven!” O’Brien called out.
“Seven!” the audience hollered back.
“Goodnight!” said O‘Brien.
For those in our community needing help or support — or for those wishing to help our transgender brothers and sisters — visit thecentersd.org (or for those in North County visit ncresourcecenter.org), or transfamilysos.org.
—Rick Braatz is a sociologist, social worker, a journalist and a former editor of Gay San Diego. He can be reached at email@example.com.