Jessi Hart, a 42-year-old transgender woman who had experienced poverty and housing insecurity, was found dead in Oregon on October 17. Authorities suspect foul play, which would make her at least the 43rd trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming person to die by violence in the U.S. this year.
Hart’s body was found in a wooded area near Banks, a small town 25 miles west of Portland, Willamette Week reports. Detectives think she died about two weeks earlier.
Hart had been featured in a Willamette Week story in June about Portland residents living in motels “as a last resort before homelessness,” the paper notes. She had been experiencing housing insecurity since her transition in 2016. She said she had lost her construction business and her home, and had become estranged from most of her family due to the transition.
She and her 13-year-old son, Caleb, “had bounced from a women’s shelter and a friend’s apartment into motels,” according to Willamette Week. She also had an adult daughter who lived in another part of Oregon.
She lost her subsidized motel room shortly after the story was published, lived in her car for a time while Caleb stayed with a friend, and eventually got another motel room with the help of a nonprofit organization.
“Jessi Hart lived a difficult life,” Willamette Week reports. “She felt that people looked at her differently because she had transitioned, and felt that she never passed well enough in her new body. She spoke frankly about poverty and its attendant miseries, which she did not sugarcoat.”
But she and Caleb had a close and supportive relationship, showing affection and finishing each other’s sentences, according to the paper. She called Caleb “a super-smart kid,” telling Willamette Week, “He’s into physics. You walk up to him and talk about regularities, it’s quantum mechanics. He taught me about it: the top layer of a black hole.”
Hart had a girlfriend, Audrey Savage, who told the paper, “I’ll miss everything about her. She was intelligent and thoughtful and caring, and I loved her quirks. The whole shorts with the knee-high socks added to the stretch pants thing. She also took almost all my hats. When they found her, they found her in my camouflage hat.”
The Washington County Sheriff’s Office has recovered Hart’s car, a 2006 black Saab that had been spray-painted white, although it’s unknown if the car was near where her body was found. Sheriff’s officers ask that anyone who’d been in contact with Hart recently call them at (503) 846-2700.
“Housing insecurity often places so many from our community in dangerous and concerning situations,” Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative, said in a press release. “Had Jessi Hart had access to secure housing, it is possible that she would still be with us today. As transgender people, we often face so many challenges and uncertainties, including housing and employment security, and, sadly, these situations can lead to greatly unfortunate outcomes. My heart and that of the community goes out to her son, Caleb.”
The number of trans, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming Americans lost to violence in 2021 is approaching 2020’s record of 44. There are likely many more in any given year, as some victims are misgendered and deadnamed by police or media, or their deaths not reported at all.