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Armed guards, escape routes, and drag shows

Performers are increasing security at their shows. But most trans people have few options to protect themselves.

A resident placed a flower on a memorial for Sasha Mason, a 45-year-old transgender woman killed in Zebulon, N.C., at a Transgender Day of Remembrance vigil in Raleigh, N.C., on Nov. 20.Hannah Schoenbaum/Associated Press

The person accused in a mass shooting that killed five and injured 17 at a Colorado LGBTQ club last month has been charged with 305 counts, including murder and hate crimes. What can’t be captured among those charges is the immense fear the massacre has created in communities already too familiar with violence.

In an NBC News report this month, drag performers talked about the increased security measures they’re taking before and during their shows to protect themselves and their audiences in this heightened climate of hostility and hate.

“We’re trying to smile and make people happy for the holidays, and in the back of our heads we’re thinking, I hope I don’t get shot,” said Jinkx Monsoon, a winner on “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars.” She now has armed guards at her shows.


She’s not being overly cautious. Recently, “Holi-Drag Storytime,” a show featuring stories and songs for children in Columbus, Ohio, was canceled after armed protesters, including members of violent extremist groups, showed up near its advertised venue. Some of the agitators gave Nazi salutes. Dozens of similar shows have been scuttled nationwide this year amid concerns about far-right violence.

Alaska 5000, another “RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars” winner, was not part of the canceled Ohio show. But she has also beefed up security for her tour performances. “It’s mortifying that we even have to think about these things for something as joyous and celebratory as a drag show. Why do we have to be worried about where the exits are and where a safe route to get to safety is? It’s terrifying, but that’s the reality of it.”

For most trans people, the reality is even more frightening — no armed guards or escape routes to protect themselves from intimate partner violence, random attacks, or extremist mayhem perceived as justified by legislated hate. As I have done in recent years, I’m devoting several of my December 2022 columns to remember those, most of them Black trans women, lost to anti-trans violence — not how they died but how they lived.


Sasha Mason, 45, on May 13 in Zebulon, N.C.: Those who attended Mason’s funeral were asked not to wear black or white but only “pure bright and fun colors because that was her personality.” On Facebook, a friend said, “No one ever had nor has anything bad to say about her because she was a true angel.”

Nedra “Sequence” Morris, 50, on May 14 in Opa-Locka, Fla.: More than 100 people attended a vigil for Morris, who was known as “Sequence” to those closest to her. She was remembered for being “strong, feisty, and opinionated” and for her love of conversation.

Chanelika Y’Ella Dior Hemingway, 30, on May 31 in Albany, N.Y.: Just weeks before she was killed, Hemingway received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Albany. She also received a 2022 Spellman Academic Achievement Award. In a TV interview, Jackie Powell, her mother, said, “She was always proud of who she was and so was I.”

Brazil Johnson, 28, on June 15 in Milwaukee: Johnson was a talented chef whose happy place was in the kitchen, said her mother, Bernitha Gildart, at a vigil. Johnson was also involved with Diverse and Resilient, an organization dedicated to improving the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ communities in Wisconsin.


Shawmaynè Giselle Marie McClam, 27, on June 21 in Gulfport, Miss.: A certified nursing assistant, McClam was described by family as “unapologetically . . . a Queen. From childhood to adulthood, she made sure to wear her crown, no need to adjust it, because she always wore it how she saw fit.”

Kitty Monroe on June 29 in Cordova, Tenn.: Moore took pride in being a devoted dog mom to her beloved Yorkies — Chyna, Milan, Tokyo, and London. “Kitty was a beautiful person. Her energy was always light and fun,” said Jasmine Tasaki, founder and executive director of WeCareTN, a support group for trans women of color in Tennessee.

Cherry Bush, 48, on July 5 in Los Angeles: In a social media post, Bush’s brother called her his “oldest friend.”

Martasia Richmond, 30, on July 12 in Chicago: “It is evident in the countless tributes from friends that [she] was well-loved and taken from us far too soon,” said Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative.

Keshia Chanel Geter, 26, on July 20 in Augusta, Ga.: “My best friend.” That’s how Michelle Jordan described her daughter. “Shined bright like a diamond. Always made me laugh,” she said. “A beautiful spirit. Loving, kind, wonderful, beautiful. Helped everybody. Would give the shirt off her back.”


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