For the trans community, 2021 began with cautious but tangible hope.
The Trump administration, with its hateful anti-trans policies that affected everything from health care to military service, had been vanquished. In his victory speech, Joe Biden became the first president-elect to specifically mention the trans community when he referenced what he called “the broadest and most diverse coalition in history.”
Then, six days into the new year, Tyianna Alexander, a Black trans woman, was murdered in Chicago. Four more trans people would die by violence that month.
So far this year, at least 49 trans and gender nonconforming people have been murdered in the United States and Puerto Rico. That surpasses last year’s record, and the real number is likely higher because these deaths are often misreported due to what’s called “deadnaming.” That occurs when victims are identified by their birth name instead of one that corresponds to their affirmed gender identity. And as in years past, most of the dead are people of color, especially Black trans women.
The year changed; the horrors faced by the transgender and gender nonconforming communities did not. Neither did the dearth of attention their deaths receive. With statistics from the Human Rights Campaign, LGTBQ media, and stories from regional news outlets, I’m devoting several of my remaining columns this year to memorializing trans and gender nonconforming people lost to violence.
Tyianna “Davarea” Alexander, 28, on Jan. 6 in Chicago: To her friends, Alexander was “nothing but life, encouragement, motivation, and fun.” Her longtime friend Beverly Ross said, “Her energy was intoxicating,” and she’s remembered for her love of dance, for her sense of humor, and “as someone who just wanted to vibe and thrive.”
Samuel Edmund Damián Valentin on Jan. 9 in Trujillo Alto, Puerto Rico: Days before he was murdered, Valentin focused on the promise of a new year. On his Facebook page, he wrote of being “grateful for all the experiences [that taught] me how strong we really are, to life, to good and bad, and for all justice that is forth to come.”
Bianca “Muffin” Bankz, 31, on Jan. 17 in Atlanta: Bankz’s nickname came from her love of blueberry muffins. She hoped to appear someday on “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” At a vigil, Jesse Pratt López, founder and co-director of the Trans Housing Coalition, said “Muffin was just blossoming into herself.”
Dominique Jackson, 30, on Jan. 25 in Jackson, Miss.: Known to her friends as “DeDe,” Jackson had a natural flair for hair styling and dreamed of opening her own salon. After a tough upbringing in Detroit, Jackson found what she always wanted — love and family.
Fifty Bandz, 21, on Jan. 28 in Baton Rouge, La.: Like many trans people, Bandz was estranged from her biological family but found support in her chosen family. Friends recalled Bandz’s love of dancing and fashion.
Alexus “Kimmy Icon” Braxton, 45, on Feb. 4 in Miami: A hairstylist, Braxton was active on social media where she often shared details about her life and the hard times she had overcome. Not long before her death, she posted “They can’t stop my shine.”
Chyna Carrillo, 24, on Feb. 18 in New Wilmington, Pa.: “Whenever I was around Chyna and I knew I was working with her, it just felt like my world would light up,” Patrick Irish, a friend and former coworker, said during an interview in Arkansas where Carillo used to live. She was a certified nursing assistant who worked at a nursing home.
Jasmine Cannady, 22, and Jeffrey “JJ” Bright, 16, on Feb. 22 in Ambridge, Pa.: They were nonbinary and trans siblings. Bright was remembered as “a beautiful person with the biggest and brightest smile.” On Facebook, Cannady wrote, “Don’t let anyone bring you down. Don’t let people tell you you can’t do anything in life. You mean something.” Their mother has been charged with their murders.
Jenna Franks, 34, on Feb. 24 in Jacksonville, N.C.: On social media a friend of Franks called her “a rock star,” while Dennis Biancuzzo, executive director of the Onslow County LGBTQ+ Community Center, which Franks frequented, said she was “a beautiful soul” and “a breath of fresh air.”
Kimberly “Tova” Wirtz, 43, on Feb. 25 in Baltimore: Shakisha Glass said her aunt struggled to find stable housing and employment due to anti-trans discrimination. But she also admired Wirtz’s toughness. “She was a very strong person. She tried to find her place in this world,” Glass said. “I watched her for years try to assimilate in a society that wasn’t built for her.”