Two more transgender or gender-nonconforming Americans have died by violence in December, bringing the total of such deaths to at least 43 in 2020, the deadliest year on record for this population.
Courtney “Eshay” Key, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman, was shot and killed Christmas Day in Chicago’s East Chatham neighborhood, on the city’s south side, local CBS affiliate WBBM reports. Friends and family members said they believe her death was an anti-trans hate crime.
“I believe Eshay was targeted,” her longtime friend Beverly Ross told the station. “We need to get to the bottom of this because Black trans lives matter. We are not going anywhere.” Police said they are investigating Key’s death as a homicide but would not comment on the motivation.
Ross described her friend as fun-loving but also ambitious. “She wanted to be something,” Ross said. “She wanted to beat the odds.”
Key was misgendered by police, to which Ross strenuously objected. “We are human. We are real,” Ross said. “We’re tired of Chicago police misgendering trans people, gender-nonconforming people.”
LaSaia Wade, director of activist group Brave Space Alliance, also spoke out, telling the Chicago Sun-Times, “Police and medical people are refusing to recognize people’s authentic life and how they recognize themselves. … We become disposable because there’s a lot of us are in need of help. [We] think you’re telling us we’re worthless, that we’re not worthy of living life, because of the way we’re misgendered. This is a continual thing.”
The death of Black gender-nonconforming person Jaheim Pugh Jaheim Barbie, 19, in Prichard, Ala., may have been a hate crime too, according to friends and relatives. The teen, who may also have gone by the name Bella, was shot to death at a Christmas party December 13, according to Mobile TV station WALA.
Tiffany Pugh, the victim’s mother, told the station Jaheim identified as both male and female and was wearing a rainbow-hued jumpsuit, perceived as women’s clothing, the night of the shooting. “My son was killed because of what he was wearing, not because of who he was or what he did,” she said.
She said a video of Jaheim lying on the floor after being shot was posted to Facebook. It showed no one coming to the youth’s aid, she added. Two other people at the party were wounded.
James Lee James Jr., 33, was arrested a few days later and charged with murdering Jaheim, reports another Mobile TV station, WBMA. Police haven’t commented on a motive. James maintains he is innocent.
On social media, friends referred to Jaheim as “the life of the party,” “such a bright light,” and “so loving,” according to the Human Rights Campaign. The organization released statements on both Key’s and Jaheim’s deaths.
“Eshay Key was a vibrant and beautiful woman who had a big heart and big dreams,” said Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative. HRC Alabama State Director Carmarion D. Anderson-Harvey noted that Jaheim “was just at the beginning of living life.” Both HRC officials called on everyone to work together to end this epidemic of violence, adding, “It will take all of us.”
David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, also released a statement: “Aggrieved. Nauseated. Enraged. Perplexed ... are a few of the words that come to mind but each fail to adequately describe how difficult it is to write statements mourning the lives of members of our community who have been stolen from us. The year is not over and we are still learning about senseless killings of members of our community who are still making sense of who they are and how God purposed for them to show up in the world; and news of members of our community being left to die while the event is streamed live on Facebook... Where’s the compassion? What happened to the community?”