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Black Trans Women Are Being Killed and the World Shrugs

Zoe Spears

Just this last Friday the 11th trans woman of color, that we know of, was killed in this country. Her name was Zoe Spears, and she was 23 years old. I have to ask myself, where is the outrage? Where is the outcry in the media? When Matthew Shepard was killed in 1998 you couldn’t change the channel without his face lighting up your living room as our nation mourned and raged against this senseless act of violence.

Of course, we knew back then that to many, the LGBTQ community was a new and foreign concept. It was only the year before that Ellen DeGeneres had come out of the closet, as our country for the first time realized we all knew and loved someone who was LGBT. Matthew Shepard was not the first to be killed because of his sexual orientation, but in many ways, Ellen’s bravery and sacrifices broke down a barrier that allowed our nation to begin having a conversation about how we treated gay and lesbian people in this country. When Matthew Shepard was killed, our media was ready to share this story. 

And so here we are, 21 years later, black trans woman after black trans woman is senselessly murdered. Rather than telling the truth about their stories and their lives, our 24-hour media news cycle seems more obsessed with the latest celebrity trends and whatever hate-filled lie our current president happens to be tweeting about at any given moment.

This president continues to tell us who he is and what he wishes this nation to be. Since he began his run for presidency he has continuously and unabashedly uplifted and given space to misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, and xenophobia. A bullseye has emerged targeting human beings in this nation who reside at the intersection of this despicable Venn diagram and it’s aimed squarely at black trans women and transgender asylum seekers. Canaries in a coal mine. These women are dying at the hands of hate and violence all around us, and yet our major media outlets continue to ignore the stories, while many feel helpless and fatigued by the constant and daily onslaught from this administration and those who follow his hateful rhetoric.

This nation is currently on the edge. We are standing at the precipice of a moral boundary where if we cross, we may never recover. The yet unfulfilled promise of this country is one of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, where all people are treated equally; and yet this country cannot even seem to agree on that core and fundamental promise.

The system is already gamed against women, religious, racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, the young, the old, and of course the LGBTQ community. Right now, this administration and those who seek to oppress are attempting to rig the system through intentionally small and large shifts in local, statewide, and national policy coupled with a strategic approach to judicial appointment legal challenges.

The warning signs are right in front of us. If we cannot stand up now to support our trans sisters of color and cry out against their dehumanization and deaths, I fear we as a nation will be lost. In the early 1900s, Germany was a thriving mecca for the queer community, but hate-filled scapegoating and propaganda bred fear, genocide, and global war. We are staring in the face of history and greeting it like a stranger. We were supposed to have learned our lesson as a human species to commit to decrying this behavior and not calling Nazis “fine people.” We cannot allow a scenario play out that leads our country to repeat the words from 1946 written by German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller, “Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.” 

This is a moment in our nation’s history where we have to ask ourselves this: What is the legacy we want to leave? Our actions must move to end the violence against black trans women, then I think we can hold on to hope. In order to do that we must first survive. If we can all focus on confronting hate and act as one to end discrimination wherever we find it, perhaps there is a chance to continue bending the moral arc of history towards justice.

Fernando Z. Lopez is Executive Director of San Diego LGBT Pride.

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