Update: On June 1, 2019, after this article was published, the body of another Black transgender woman was found in White Rock Lake in Dallas. Authorities are working to identify the victim and cause of death.
Texas is often in national headlines for all the wrong reasons. But the high profile deaths of young, Black, transgender women — including the recent tragic murder of 23 year-old Muhlaysia Booker in Dallas — are senseless, preventable events that continue to highlight the often turbulent fight for trans inclusion and equity in our state.
Our community laid Muhlaysia to rest this week. We chose to communally celebrate her life, her joy, and her truth while mourning her loss. It would be easy enough to remember Muhlaysia as a martyr, but she is not. She was a woman who was deserving of love, respect, dignity, acceptance, and safety. And she was failed by a system that did not provide her the basic protections that should be afforded to all people.
I, too, am a trans woman of color, a southern belle with roots in Mississippi and reared in Dallas. I know all too well the stigma and prejudice that permeate the realities of the trans community, especially as a trans woman raised by two pastors in a devout community of faith. For years my story included my family believing that my transition was a sin, and I lived without their support, the support of my church, and the support of my broader environment.
Without that acceptance and support, Black trans women are far more vulnerable to violence and death. Already five transgender people have been murdered in 2019; all of the victims were Black women. Of the 128 transgender people that have been murdered since 2013, 95 were Black women. The assault on Black transgender women is no accident: There are systemic problems that plague trans women of color.
Thankfully I knew my truth and that I was meant to be a leader, called by God at a young age to walk in His purpose. So I kept showing up, confident in how God created me and in the inclusive and affirming ministry of the gospel. Now as the national co-minister for TransSaints of the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries, I preach radical inclusivity, a theology that affirms God’s mandate to be intentionally inclusive of all persons, particularly those that have been marginalized.
Sadly, in Texas we are not dealing with elected officials that subscribe to the radically inclusive mindset. In fact, many of our elected officials at the state and federal level actively attempt to erase transgender people from reality. From President Trump’s recent efforts to remove discrimination protections for trans people seeking healthcare, to the Texas legislature’s attempts to codify discrimination against LGBTQ people in state laws, transgender people have an uphill battle to not only constantly defend ourselves in public spaces, but in political ones as well.
If we as a community are serious about combating violence against trans Texans, the same concept behind radical inclusivity should be adopted by our policymakers. We must always have a seat at the table when it comes to any policy decisions that will affect us. We must work together with allies who are compassionate to our truth and can help to amplify our voices. And we must continue to demand that we have equal access to the same protections that are afforded to all other Texans. Without holistic inclusion, Black trans lives will continue to be lost.
It’s critical that Black trans women also have the opportunity to showcase our good, our stories of courage and faith, our joie de vivre. When the media perpetuates an ‘othering’ narrative only after tragedy or violence strikes, it removes our agency in the process.
It will first take the courageous spirit of trans community members who know and are willing to share their truth. So while we mourn during this time, we continue to rejoice that there is hope in what’s to come. And it is that hope that guides us.