From left: Jahaira DeAlto Balenciaga, Iris Santos, and Tiffany Thomas
At least three more transgender or gender-nonconforming Americans, all people of color, have died by violence in recent days.
Jahaira DeAlto Balenciaga, 42, an activist and a legend in the Boston ballroom scene, was stabbed to death Sunday in her home in the city’s Dorchester neighborhood. A house guest, Fatima Yasin, 28, was also killed in the attack, Boston broadcaster WGBH reports.
Yasin’s husband, Marcus Chavis, 34, has been charged with two counts of murder. He and their two children, aged 7 and 8, were also staying in DeAlto’s home. She had offered “a safe space for them to get out of a bad situation,” Nolan Tesis, a friend of DeAlto’s, told WGBH. Police have not stated a motive for the crime but have said Chavis had a history of mental illness.
DeAlto was known as “a community advocate, anti-domestic violence activist, mother figure and local ballroom drag scene icon,” the station reports. “Jahaira was a legend for the trans community,” Tesis said. “She was a mother to so many that didn't have parents. I think that she took the most pride in her role as a grandmother and a mother, a chosen family for many individuals in the LGBTQ community.”
DeAlto worked for the Elizabeth Freeman Center, which assists survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. “We remember Jahaira as a colleague, activist and survivor who touched the lives of everyone around her with her passion, drive, humanity, humor, and fierce vision,” center officials tweeted. “Her impact on the community was profound and her presence will be missed by many.”
She was famous in Boston’s ballroom scene as a member of the House of Balenciaga. “The House of Balenciaga regretfully acknowledges the death/murder of our own Jahaira M. DeAlto, a community advocate and friend to many,” Harold Balenciaga wrote on Facebook. “Let us not forget her ongoing work against domestic abuse and continue to uplift her name and ensure her memory lives on in this ironic twist of fate.”
Iris Santos, 22, was shot to death while sitting at a picnic table outside a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Houston the evening of April 23, local TV station KTRK reports. Someone just walked up to her and started shooting, according to the station. The attack was caught on surveillance video, and police are asking for help in identifying the suspect, who was seen fleeing into a neighboring apartment complex. Police released a portion of the video Monday; they have not determined a motive in the crime, although they have not ruled out anti-trans bias.
Santos’s family did not learn of her death for several days, having become concerned after not hearing from her. “She was a beautiful soul,” her mother, Maria Carreon, told KTRK this week. “She was a wonderful person. She [was] always trying to help people, and even when she doesn’t have nothing, she always gives.”
Anyone with information is asked to call the Houston Police Department’s Homicide Division at (713) 308-3600 or CrimeStoppers at (713) 222- 8477 (TIPS). Her family has set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for funeral expenses.
Tiffany Thomas, 38, was shot and killed at a car wash in Dallas on April 24. She was deadnamed in some local reports, and her family said she was not transgender, although she appears to have been gender-nonconforming at the very least.
“Tiffany’s exact identity may never be known,” Pgh Lesbian Correspondents reports. “The trans community welcomes and affirms her under the trans umbrella, acknowledging her death. There’s no shame for someone [assigned male at birth] to be wearing women’s clothing at a car wash. It certainly doesn’t mean she deserved to die. [Acceding] to the family’s erasure of Tiffany is not only cowardly but a grave disservice to other trans women in Dallas. It is a shameful way to behave.”
Dallas police ask that anyone with information call the department at (469) 475-6004. Also, CrimeStoppers, reachable at (214) 373-8477, is offering a reward of up to $5,000 for information that leads to an arrest and indictment.
At least 19 trans, nonbinary, or gender-nonconforming people have died by violence in the U.S. this year, and it’s likely that many more such deaths have gone unreported. Last year’s total was a record 44.
“We need everyone to speak up and speak out in support of transgender people,” said a statement from Tori Cooper, director of community engagement for the Human Rights Campaign’s Transgender Justice Initiative. “The violence must end.”