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Say their names: Another deadly year for Black trans women

Violence against those facing racism, misogyny, and transphobia is an epidemic within an epidemic.

Protesters march in New York, June 14.Demetrius Freeman/NYT

Monika Diamond. Lexi Sutton. Dominique Fells. Nina Pop. Riah Milton. Brayla Stone. Merci Mack. Shaki Peters. Bree Black. Tiffany Harris. Quesha D. Hardy, Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears. Lea Rayshon Daye. Kee Sam. Aerrion Burnett. Mia Green. Brooklyn Deshana. Angel Unique. Skylar Heath. Asia Jynae Foster. Chae’Meshia Simms.

Of at least 41 trans and gender nonconforming people murdered in 2020, more than half have been Black trans women. In a year of sadly historic levels of fatal violence against the trans community, this is an epidemic within an epidemic.

“It comes down to this: There needs to be a shift in our culture as to who is seen as having value,” Tre’Andre Valentine, executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, told me during a recent interview. “As a society, we don’t talk enough about the violence that has been enacted on Black women — and that also means Black trans women.”

Trans people and their allies are fighting to change the narrative. After the police killing of George Floyd in May, antiracism protests sparked nationwide marches for trans rights and in memory of Black trans people murdered this year. If we say the names of Atatiana Jefferson and Breonna Taylor, we must also speak out for Nina Pop and Tiffany Harris.


“Black people — and brown people and indigenous people — are constantly having to insert and assert who they are, and have their identities recognized,” Valentine said. “They should be able to do that without compromise or violence or backlash. When we talk about Black people, when we say ‘Black lives matter,’ we mean all Black people.”

In columns this month, I’ve been memorializing every trans and gender nonconforming person lost to violence in 2020, according to Human Rights Campaign. That list, including Black trans women, continues here.


Brian “Egypt” Powers, 43, on June 13 in Akron, Ohio: Powers, who once dreamt of being a dancer for Janet Jackson or Paula Abdul found stability working for a friend’s catering company. Just as distinctive as his cooking were his colorful braids, or his “unicorn braids,” as Powers called them.

Brayla Stone, 17, on June 25 in Little Rock, Ark.: David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said Stone died “because we live in a society where it is not yet explicit that when we say Black Lives Matter we mean all Black lives, which includes Black trans women and girls.”

Merci Mack, 22, on June 30 in Dallas: Mack loved to spoil her nieces and nephews. “That’s the kind of auntie she was: ‘I don’t care what your mama said, come get in this car, and we’re going to get some ice cream,’” Tyeshia Rickett, Mack’s sister, said. “They loved her.”

Shaki Peters, 32, on July 1 in Amite City, La.: A performance artist, Peters was remembered by her friend Nathalie Nia Faulk as “consistently laughing, consistently joking, the first person to get up and dance.” Peters, she said, “was the person who would come to you and be like, ‘How are you? Are you okay?’”

Bree Black, 27, on July 3 in Pompano Beach, Fla.: Shenika Harris, a Florida attorney and a spokesperson for Black’s family, said, “They have a hole in their family. They are hurting.”


Summer Taylor, 24, on July 4 in Seattle: Taylor’s mother described them (Taylor used non-binary pronouns) as “A burst of creativity, wit, and charm, with a heart of empathy.” Taylor was an ardent supporter of the Black Lives Matter movement, and would want to be remembered as an ally of Black lives, their mother said.

Marilyn Cazares, 22, on July 16 in Brawley, Calif.: Mindy Garcia, Cazares’ aunt, said her niece “loved to sing and dance.” She called Cazares “very brave,” “very outspoken,” and “very loved.”

Tiffany Harris, 32, on July 26 in Bronx, N.Y.: On her Facebook page, Harris, also known as Dior H. Ova, wrote about her favorite TV dramas like “Desperate Housewives,” “Sex and the City,” and “Nip/Tuck,” as well as her love of fashion.

Queasha D. Hardy, 22, on July 27 in Baton Rouge, La.: With her rainbow nail polish and brightly colored hair, which could range from electric blue to fire engine red, Hardy stood out. As a popular hairstylist, she made sure her clients did as well. Friends remember her as “always smiling” and “the life of all parties.”

Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears, 34, on July 28 in Portland, Ore.: Rhone-Spears, a businesswoman, also volunteered at a nonprofit that helps children transition out of foster care. Her sister, Nicola Spears, said, “She went through a lot in her childhood growing up, so I believe with other kids she just wanted them to be happy and not have to deal with what she had to deal with.”


Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her @reneeygraham.