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Trans Americans Shot to Death in Chicago, Puerto Rico

Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín and Tyianna “Davarea” Alexander

A transgender woman in Chicago and a transgender man in Puerto Rico have been fatally shot in the past week, in the first reported violent deaths of trans Americans in 2021.

Tyianna “Davarea” Alexander, 28, was shot to death on a street in the Gresham neighborhood on Chicago’s south side about 5 a.m. Wednesday, the Chicago Sun-Times reports. She was shot in the head and was pronounced dead at the scene. A man accompanying her, Brandon Gowdy, 31, was hit in the arm and was taken to a nearby hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The shots were fired from a vehicle. Homicide detectives are investigating the crime.

Alexander is being remembered fondly. “Beverly Ross, a trans advocate and community sister who grew up with Tyianna, said that she was a loving person who everyone loved to be around,” notes a press release from the National Black Justice Coalition. “She loved to dance, had a great sense of humor, enjoyed life when she could, and just wanted to be able to ‘vibe and thrive.’” A memorial service is planned for Friday.

She was the second Black trans woman killed in Chicago in recent weeks. Courtney “Eshay” Key, 25, was shot to death Christmas Day in what friends and family believe was an anti-trans hate crime.

“Beverly has planned homegoing services for two of her friends, members of our community, in the last week alone,” NBJC Executive Director David Johns said in the press release. “The year has just begun and, already, the anger and pain that our country has recently experienced as a result of white supremacy has been compounded by the transphobia that too often undergirds the violent ways members of our communities are stolen from us. Tyianna should be here. Courtney too. My only hope is that our community commits to ensuring that Black Lives Matter, including Black trans lives, soon.” He called on the incoming U.S. president and vice president, Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, to address violence against trans Americans.

In Puerto Rico, Samuel Edmund Damián Valentín was found dead on a highway in Trujillo Alto early Saturday, Primera Hora reports. A driver had hit what she thought was an object on the road, then stopped and realized she had hit a dead person. Valentín had been shot several times in various parts of his body.

He was misgendered in initial reports, something that was called out by activist Pedro Julio Serrano of Puerto Rico Para Tod@s. “One of the most serious problems we have with the Police and the Department of Justice is that they do not identify LGBTTIQ + people in their incident reports,” he said in a press release, according to Primera Hora. “Almost every time an LGBTTIQ + person is murdered, it is the community itself that identifies them. The Police and Justice fail to comply with their protocols and it even seems that they want to ignore, make invisible and minimize the serious problem of the wave of homophobic and transphobic violence that haunts us like never before. This has to stop and the government has to act immediately to tackle this crisis.” At least 12 LGBTQ+ people have died by violence in the territory in the past two years, he said.

Serrano urged police to investigate the possibility that Valentín’s death was a hate crime. Police said they are looking at all possible motives.

The deaths of Alexander and Valentín come after a year that saw record fatal violence against trans and gender-nonconforming people in the U.S. Forty-four were reported to have died violently in 2020, the most since activists and media began keeping records, and the majority of the victims were Black or Latinx women. And that is likely an undercount, as many are misgendered by police or media, or their deaths not reported at all.

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