The Murder of Black Transgender Women is on the Rise in the United States

Zoe Spears (Facebook). The murders of Black transgender women are approaching epidemic dimensions in the United States. At least 10 Black transgender women have been killed in 2019 alone and four transgender women of color have been killed in June alone. These numbers are staggering given that transgender people comprise 0.3 percent of the general population and 3.5 percent of the LGBTQ community. The latest victim, Zoe Spears, a 23-year-old Black transgender woman, was found dead on June 13 in Fairmount Heights, Maryland, a suburb of Washington, DC.

Prince George’s County Police Department and Fairmount Heights Police were called to the 600 block of 59th Avenue around 11:55 p.m. Spears was found lying dead in the street with several gunshot wounds, including one to her head. Spears was recently homeless, but had managed to stabilize her living situation. First living at Casa Ruby, a LGBTQ youth shelter, Spears had recently moved into an apartment and had found employment. According to Earline Buds, a transgender activist in DC: “She was off and going. She loved working, 23 is so young to lose your life “ according to the Washington Blade.

Ruby Corado, a close friend of Spears, and founder of Casa Ruby expressed her grief in a Facebook posting. She considered Spears a daughter and wrote; “I want you to look at me and look at me in the face. This is what happens when people in our community get killed. The real consequences of violence look just like this. This is what violence does to our community. It’s not just about a killing, it’s not just about losing, it’s about the pain that we suffer,” according to Buzzfeed News.Spears was found near the Maryland and Washington, DC border in an area where transgender women and cisgender women are known to engage in sex work. She is the second transgender woman killed in this vicinity. Spears’ friend, Ashanti Carmon was killed on March 30, just a few blocks from where Spears’ body was found. The circumstances of their deaths were also similar. Carmon was found dead on the Maryland side of Eastern Avenue, on Jost Street near J Street. She was shot multiple times.

Spears had expressed concern about her welfare after reportedly witnessing Carmon’s death. According to Ruby Corado, Spears called her a month before her death and expressed fear for her own life. “She was scared and said I’m afraid that I’m going to die,” according to WTOP.

Investigators have expressed concerns about the proximity of the murders. Major Brian Reilly, commander of the Prince George’s County Criminal Investigation Division, said at a press briefing, “It’s unusual to have two murders within a few blocks of each other.” He urged the transgender community to look out for each other. Investigators cannot say at this time if the two murders are related.

The murders of Spears and Carmon have struck palpable fear into the transgender community in the area. Given the spike in attacks on transgender people, some observers like Tamika Spelman, an advocacy associate with HIPS and a friend of Spears and Carmon, believe the transgender community is being targeted. She explained, “I’m at a point now where I don’t want to go anywhere outside of work and home... I’m truly terrified of being on the streets at any point because you never know when somebody’s going to take your life,” according to WTOP.

Spears’ murder has joined a disturbing increase in the homicides of Black transgender women during National Pride Month, a time meant to celebrate LGBTQ life and culture. Including Spears, four transgender women have been killed this month alone. Those women include Johana “Joa” Medina Leon, 25, who died on June 1, hours after her release from Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody. Chynall Lindsey, 26 was found dead in White Rock Lake, a city near Dallas, Texas, on June 1 as well. Chanel Scurlock, 23, was killed in Lumberton, North Carolina on June 6. A fifth transgender woman, Layleen Polanco, 27, died in solitary confinement at Riker’s Island on June 3. According to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, at least 26 transgender people were killed in 2018. The majority of those deaths were Black transgender women. Victims are often killed by acquaintances, partners and strangers. Some of the cases involve anti-transgender basis. Others are related to the victim’s transgender status and societal factors have placed them at greater risk of unemployment, poverty, homelessness, or survival sex work.

About the Author

Stephen G. Hall is a sections editor for The North Star. He is a historian specializing in 19th and 20th century African American and American intellectual, social and cultural history and the African Diaspora. Hall is the author of A Faithful Account of the Race: African American Historical Writing in Nineteenth-Century America and is working on a new book exploring the scholarly production of Black historians on the African Diaspora from 1885 to 1960.