Two trans women were slain only days before Transgender Day of Remembrance as an “epidemic of violence” tightens its chokehold on the US.
Angel Naira, a 36-year-old Black trans healthcare worker described as a “great person” by her loved ones, was fatally shot in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, 11 November.
While Danyale Johnson, a 35-year-old Black trans woman, was found dead in a Memphis, Tennessee, parking lot after her shooter left her bleeding as they stole her vehicle on 13 November.
But because both were misgendered and deadnamed by the authorities and news outlets alike, it was not known until this week that Naira and Johnson are the latest victims of a grisly wave of transphobic violence.
Naira and Johnson are the 47th and 48th trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming people respectively to have been violently killed in the US, according to Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT+ campaign group that has been documenting the slayings since 2013.
Such killings have outraged activists and raised fears of a specter of violence that has seized the States, with this year being the deadliest for trans Americans since national record-keeping began.
What happened to Angel Naira and Danyale Johnson?
Aliquippa police officers arrived at the Linmar Terrace Housing Complex to find Naira “unresponsive”, a dispatcher said according to audio obtained by local broadcaster KDKA.
Officers had been called to her apartment for a welfare check.
The dispatcher misgendered the victim, the audio showed, as did much of the media coverage – an injustice all too common for trans homicide victims.
Her apartment had been “broken into”, the dispatcher added. “Some sort of disturbance there.” Naira was pronounced dead at the scene.
“[She] was a good [girl],” Belinda Alford, Naira’s mother, told KDKA. “[She] didn’t deserve this.”
Naira’s brother, Martell Murray, started GoFundMe to pay for her funeral expenses.
His sister, he wrote, was “a great person and loved everyone”.
“She had a big heart and would do anything for her family and friends,” he said, adding: “I feel this was a hate crime against [transgender people].”
Pennslyvania State Police are leading the investigation into the Beaver Falls Beauty Academy graduate’s death.
According to FOX 13, which misgendered her, Johnson died of gunfire injuries in the parking lot of the Bellevue Inn, a motel, at around 1am.
Her shooter, Memphis Police said, had leaped into her 2010 black Nissan Altima and taken off after killing her. The incident had erupted after the “unknown male” and the victim had an “argument”, the force added.
Johnson was rushed to a local hospital but died of her injuries.
We Care Tennessee, a local non-profit, confirmed her death, PinkNews understands.
Activists lament ‘devastating, but unsurprising’ deaths of trans women
For activists, a lack of surprise. It can be hard not to become inured to the years-long rise in violence against trans people.
“It is devastating but unsurprising that we are remembering yet another bright soul during Trans Week of Awareness and just days before Trans Day of Remembrance,” Tori Cooper, who leads the HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a statement.
“The pace of deaths this year has been unrelenting. We’ve already recorded more cases this year than during the entirety of 2020.
“We must all commit not only to remembering those who have been taken from us but to dismantling transphobia and improving the material conditions of trans and non-binary people to end this epidemic of violence.”
The full death toll can be impossible to determine, they warn, with record-keeping for trans homicide cases being riddled with difficulties.
Around three-quarters of trans homicide victims are misgendered and deadnamed by the police and press, the HRC found.
Such inaccurate reporting only exacerbates the hostility and stigma trans people, particularly trans Black women, face.
Advocates point to bracing statistics to illustrate this. Three-fourths of cases have involved a gun, according to the 2017-2019 Transgender Homicide Tracker.
Of them, nearly eight in 10 homicides of trans Black women involved a firearm.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the annual murder rate for Americans aged between 15 and 34 is about one in 12,000.
For Black trans women in the exact same age group, the rate rockets to one in 2,600, an investigation by Mic found.
If in 2015 all Americans had the same risk of murder as Black trans women, there would have been 120,087 slain instead of 15,696.
Tyianna Alexandra, a 28-year-old Black trans woman, was shot and killed in Chicago in the early hours of 6 January, becoming the first known violent killing of a trans person in 2021.
Since then, the community has mourned across 2021: Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín, Bianca Bankz, Dominique Jackson, Fifty Bandz, Alexus Braxton, Chyna Carrillo, Jeffrey ‘JJ’ Bright, Jasmine Cannady, Jenna Franks, Diamond ‘Kyree’ Sanders, Rayanna Pardo, Dominique Lucious, Jaida Peterson, Remy Fennell, Tiara Banks, Natalia Smüt, Iris Santos, Tiffany Thomas, Jahaira DeAlto Balenciaga, Keri Washington, Sophie Vásquez, Danny Henson, Whispering Bear Spirit, Serenity Hollis, Oliver ‘Ollie’ Taylor, Thomas Hardin, Poe Black, Novaa Watson, Aidelen Evans, Taya Ashton, Shai Vanderpump, Tierramarie Lewis, Miss CoCo, Pooh Johnson, Disaya Monaee, Brianna Hamilton, Kiér Laprí Kartier, Mel Groves, Royal Poetical Starz, Zoella Rose Martinez, Jo Acker, Jessi Hart, Rikkey Outommuro, Marquiisha Lawrence and Jenny De Leon.