Earlier this month, 23-year-old Chanel Scurlock was found shot dead in Lumberton, North Carolina. She is the ninth transgender Black woman killed in 2019. Last week, Zoe Spears became the tenth, and just the sixth in the last month.
Each time there’s yet another death, my mom has reached out to me to offer support and unfortunately, due to the frequency of these deaths, I’ve become almost numb to them until this more recent one when my mom asked, “why does this keep happening?” I was taken aback by the question at first because the answer feels obvious. Fear, both my own and the world’s toward me, has become such an essential part of my transition experience that I’ve begun to repeat a quote by Da’Shaun Harrison to myself like a mantra: “to be visibly queer is to choose your happiness over your safety." That feels especially true in North Carolina -- where anti-LGBTQ lawmakers passed House Bill 2 only three years ago and where Kanautica Zayre-Brown has just now be authorized to be transferred from a men’s prison -- violence against trans women, especially Black trans women like myself, feels almost normal.
The murder of Black trans women frequently goes unsolved, providing no justice for their families, and when they are discussed in the media, more often then not they’re are misgendered and deadnamed. When our own government fails to recognize our humanity and actively calls for our eradication, then it’s no wonder why bigotry and violences follow suit. We see more and more attacks on trans rights in the news. This year, the Trump administration has moved to take away protections from trans people from discrimination in healthcare. This comes after Trump's fight to ban trans people from the military. These acts of governmental violence are inextricable from the daily instances of transphobia, and for Black trans women, this marginalization works hand-in-hand with racism and sexism.
But we are not alone in this fight. This month marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and the fight for LGBTQIA+ rights is stronger than ever. The ACLU of North Carolina and our partners are working tirelessly to advocate for trans acceptance in more spaces, from public facilities to drivers’ licenses. I know for myself that despite these frequent harms, I refuse to let my fears define me. Yes, safety is fraught for trans people, but that does not negate the happiness of being free, being yourself, and being visible. Laverne Cox said “it is revolutionary for any trans person to choose to be seen and visible in a world that tells us we shouldn’t exist,” and I feel that revolution within me every day I am able to live as myself. As a queer person, you often live knowing you exist carrying on the lives and wishes of those like Chanel Scurlock who are no longer here.
Occasions like Pride are as much a memorial as they are a protest because we fight for all those who are alive, but also those who are gone. And in this fight we are gaining ground. As I’ve learned with my own transition, joy is possible, community is possible, and if we fight together maybe safety will be possible one day too.