Transgender Day of Remembrance: Those We've Lost in 2014
Nearly every two days, a person is killed somewhere in the world for expressing gender nonconformity. This sobering statistic does not include the numerous other deaths that never receive media attention or are not reported to police, making the full scope of lives lost to senseless antitrans prejudice truly innumerable.
As the annual Transgender Day of Remembrance approaches each November 20, the list of the dead who vigilgoers will memorialize steadily grows, filled especially with the names of trans women of color. This year marks the 15th anniversary of the first TDOR, held in Allston, Mass., to memorialize Rita Hester, a trans woman of color whose life was cut tragically short in 1999.
Over the years, the now-international project has catalogued the loss of hundreds of trans and gender-nonconforming people — individuals who, within their often short lifetimes, were beloved family members, friends, and members of their communities — who faced attackers wielding slurs, weapons, and fists. Some were killed by intimate partners, some by strangers, while still others were children slain by parents who were intolerant of their gender variance.
And while transgender people, along with friends, loved ones, family, and allies, somberly remember those killed because of antitrans violence today, we also remember that there are still countless instances of transphobic acts occurring each year that do not end in death — many of which are never reported to media or authorities. Likewise, murders not covered by the media tend to become more difficult to communally memorialize on this day.
While The Advocate's memorial coverage to mark this year's TDOR focuses on women whose deaths were covered in the English-speaking press, we also honor countless other precious lives marred by violence and the multitude of others whose passing goes unspoken.
So, once again, we ask that you draw your attention to those whose deaths we mourn, not simply to cause sadness, but to raise awareness of the need for a world in which such constant mourning is never requisite again.
Alejandra Leos, 41, was fatally shot in the back while trying to leave her Memphis, Tenn., home September 5 after a fight with her boyfriend, Miguel Pegues. Police quickly charged Pegues with first-degree murder, and he is currently awaiting trial. Leos is fondly remembered by her mother, family, and neighbors, one of whom told reporters that Leos was the kind of woman who would say, "You don't have a jacket? I'll give [mine] to you."
Aniya Parker, 47, was shot October 3 in Los Angeles by a group of men during what police consider a "robbery gone wrong." Nearby surveillance video recorded the attackers attempting to take Parker's purse; however, the fact that the bag was left at the scene has left some trans advocates believing she was targeted because of her gender identity. Police have appealed to the community for assistance in their investigation, offering a $50,000 award for information that leads to an arrest.
Ashley (Michelle) Sherman, 25, was found October 27 with a gunshot wound to the head, lying underneath a light pole at Indianapolis's Tudor Park condominiums. Officials are still unsure whether she died where she was found or was moved there, but are not investigating her death as a hate crime at this time. Nearly 100 family members and friends gathered at the spot where her body was found for a vigil in the days following her murder. Sherman's mother and aunt made emotional statements to media there, pleading with Sherman's killer to come forward.
Betty Skinner, 52, was found December 4, 2013, at her Cleveland senior apartment complex, dead from severe head injuries. A physically disabled woman who required assisted living, she was unable to leave her bed during the attack. Police have not revealed any leads or suspects.
Gizzy Fowler, 24, was found November 12, shot dead outside her car in the driveway of a Nashville residence. Police are still investigating who killed Fowler and why she was at the house, which was unoccupied. Fowler was mourned at a local street vigil, where her tearful mother called for her child's murderer to come forward. Fowler is remembered fondly by her local trans community and members of the Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition.
Jennifer Laude, 26, was found October 11, strangled in a bathroom in Olongapo, Philippines. U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton was charged with the murder, which he is accused of committing during military training exercises. The circumstances surrounding Laude's death spurred human rights advocates to call for the U.S. to cede custody of Pemberton to Philippine authorities and for the immediate junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement, signed in early 2014, which expanded the U.S.'s military presence in the Philippines.
While the Visiting Forces Agreement remains intact, Pemberton was transferred to a Philippine military base nearly two weeks after Laude's death, where he currently remains in custody at Camp Aguinaldo. On October 23, Laude's distraught fiancé, German national Marc Sueselbeck, was arrested for assaulting a guard after jumping the fence at Camp Aguinaldo with Laude's sister and was voluntarily deported a week later. Pemberton currently awaits trial.
Mayang Prasetyo, 27, was murdered, police believe, by her newlywed husband, Marcus Peter Volke, October 5. Volke, who met Prasetyo while they were both cruise ship chefs, was allegedly upset that Prasetyo wanted to move out of the couple's home in Brisbane, Australia, fled the crime scene
After details of the gruesome crime made news, Australian tabloid The Courier Mail ran a lurid cover image of Prasetyo posing in a bikini, a headline that included the dehumanizing word "she-male," and an article that emphasized her history as a sex worker. The sensationalistic coverage ignited a media firestorm and an online petition demanding the Mail change its reporting policies that was signed by nearly 28,000. Three weeks after Prasetyo's death, the tabloid issued a formal apology in the Brisbane Daily.
Henderson's death received a surge of media attention when it was revealed she was the older sister of Los Angeles Clippers player Reggie Bullock. Bullock expressed love and gratitude toward Henderson on Twitter, saying "[She] never cared what others thought … always tried to keep people smiling and would do anything for me." Henderson was also mourned by a tight-knit group of trans women of color she considered her sisters, who remembered her in a Guardian profile as a "good girl, soft-spoken, harmless" who "carr[ied herself] with dignity, with a certain kind of grace."
Yaz'min Shancez, 31, was found deceased behind a garbage bin on a private road in Fort Myers, Fla., on June 19. Her remains had been burned post-mortem. Local police were reluctant to rule Shancez's murder a hate crime and have not publicly named a suspect. Shancez's father, Harvey Loggins, joined family members in leaving balloons and stuffed animals where his child's body was found. "Still to this day I love [her]," Loggins told local reporters, lamenting that he had never bought her the designer charm bracelet she always wanted. "I wish [she] were here right now."
A murder victim allegedly killed by an intimate partner in Detroit's Palmer Park August 15 has not been identified, but LGBT advocates say she was a transgender woman. After the murder took place, the perpetrator reportedly drove away and crashed into another car nearby, then took off on foot, leaving his gun behind. Detroit police quickly arrested Eduardo Moss, who is also suspected of attacking two other trans women near Palmer Park the previous week.
Unable to work due to health issues, Cowdrey spent time on hobbies that included reading science fiction, watching Star Trek, shopping in thrift stores, and listening to Scottish music. Friends and family remember Cowdrey as, according to a family spokesperson, "a complex character who was determined to live life her way."
Two days after the murder, Orhan returned to Turkey and confessed his crime to family and military police, and instructed officials where to find Basar's body. Basar's family was able to give her a burial but were reportedly unaccepting of her trans identity and her relationships, choosing to provide her male-centric funeral rites and publicly claim that she had died in a car accident. Basar was beloved by her trans friends, but they were reportedly not allowed to attend her funeral.
The official website for the Transgender Day of Remembrance listed 81 names for worldwide vigil-goers to memorialize this year. Transgender Europe has recorded 226 names. While this report from The Advocate has focused on most of the deaths reported in the English-speaking media, all of the lives lost — as well as those never reported — are worthy of honoring. Today we remember: