Two fatal attacks on transgendered women of color in Washington, D.C., along with the brutal beating of a third victim and the vandalism of a memorial to one of the dead women, occurred last week, heightening community fears of further anti-trans violence in the nation's capital.
The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition tracks murders and violence against transgendered individuals across the country. Such killings have averaged more than one per month for several years.
Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, who spoke Aug. 21 at a vigil for victim Bella Evangelista, stated: 'Today, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King's historic March on Washington, we have to confront the reality that in just one week ... two transgender women of color have been murdered, another brutally beaten, and a memorial altar to one of the deceased vandalized. This is beyond sad. It is outrageous. Sadly, however, transgender people are routinely brutalized across this country, and almost all these attacks go unreported and unnoticed. The only way that anything good can come out of these tragedies is if they are used to rally our community, our allies, and government to respond in positive ways —by helping the police apprehend the at-large perpetrators, by strengthening the District's hate-crimes law to explicitly cover transgender persons, to get private and government support for transgender health and human service programs. These things will not happen if we forget this last week and its victims. We must not do that.'
According to the Washington Blade, Evangelista, a well-known D.C. drag performer, was shot Aug. 16 by a man who allegedly paid her for sex and became enraged upon learning of her biological gender. She was 25. Police have apprehended a suspect, Antoine D. Jacobs, 22, in connection with Evangelista's killing and charged him with a hate crime. Under D.C.'s Bias Related Crimes Act, Jacobs, if convicted, would be subject to a sentence one and a half times greater than a non-bias crime. D.C. law does not provide for the death penalty.
As reported by the Blade, a statement released by D.C. police says officers working in the area of the shooting heard the shots and rushed to the scene, where they observed a man fleeing on a bicycle. The officers then apprehended the man—Jacobs.
A police source said officers recovered a gun after observing Jacobs toss it away while riding his bike. The source confirmed an account by the Washington Post that investigators believe Jacobs paid Evangelista for oral sex, thinking she was a heterosexual woman. According to the Post, investigators said someone else informed Jacobs a short time after his alleged sexual encounter that Evangelista was a man. Jacobs reportedly returned to the scene and shot Evangelista, the Post reported investigators as saying.
Police sources told the Post that Jacobs acknowledged shooting Evangelista, but claimed he did so after she tried to rob him. Investigators have discounted this claim.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Blade also notes that Evangelista's killing occurred four days after D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams appeared at a vigil commemorating the year anniversary of the murders of two D.C. trans teenagers. Stephanie (Wilbur) Thomas and Ukea (Deon) Davis were shot multiple times while sitting in Thomas' car Aug. 12, 2002. The case remains unsolved.
Earlier this year, also according to the Blade, transgendered D.C. resident Kim Mimi Young was stabbed to death. Young's murder is also unsolved.
According to the Aug. 22 edition of the Washington Post, following Evangelista's murder Aug. 16, Aaryn Marshall, who went by Emonie Kiera Spaulding, 25, was found dead in Southeast Washington Aug. 20. Another victim, a 24-year-old whose name has not been released by police, was shot in the torso. Activists believe both attacks are hate crimes, according to the Post.
In Chicago, Horizons reported April 28 that anti-GLBT hate crimes in Chicago declined in 2002, with 32 incidents reported compared to 46 incidents in 2001. However, according to www.horizonsonline.org, the reduced numbers do not necessarily indicate that hate crimes are less prevalent. Budget cutbacks due to the weak economy have led to less intensive investigation of possible hate crimes for GLBT agencies across the country.
In addition, murders often go under-reported in community tracking programs because they often rely on someone coming forward and reporting the incident.
LLEGĂ", the Washington, D.C.-based National Latina/o Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Organization, asks that the gender identity of recent transgender victims of violence be respected.
'Bella Evangelista, 25, a Guatemalan immigrant who lived in Washington, D.C., was shot and killed early at the corner of Arkansas Avenue and Allison Street in the Crestwood area. Two more transgenders of color, both African-American, were shot in Washington. Some news reports of the crimes have placed the victims' names and words such as 'she' in quotes,' LLEGO noted.
'A person's dignity is diminished, sometimes unintentionally, when their identity is treated as less than legitimate,' said MartĂn Ornelas-Quintero, LLEGĂ" executive director. 'We ask that the victims of these shootings and all transgenders be treated with the respect they deserve.'
Speaking at a press conference at La ClĂnica del Pueblo, a Latino health service where Evangelista helped form a transgender group, Ruby Bracamonte, a trans friend of Evangelista, said that though Bracamonte was born male, 'Today, just like my transgender brothers and sisters, I am a woman, and we should be referred to that way.'
'The real issue is that we're being killed,' Bracamonte said. 'Our lives are being taken away simply because of who we are. Please don't focus on things that have nothing to do with the pain we have experienced in the past few days.'
Among the other speakers at the press conference were Lisbeth MelĂ©ndez, LLEGĂ" director of community education and training.