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Michelle “Michellyn” Ramos Vargas is the 30th transgender woman or gender non-conforming person to be killed in the U.S. this year, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reported.
Vargas, 33, was fatally shot on Sept. 30 in San Germán, Puerto Rico, The San Juan Daily Star reported. Police are still investigating whether or not the killing was a hate crime, according to the newspaper. She was reportedly studying to become a nurse at Ponce Paramedical College and was a bartender, the Associated Press reported.
Vargas is at least the sixth trans person to die by violence on the island, according to HRC. The organization said Layla Peláez (21), Serena Angelique Velázquez (32), Penélope Díaz Ramírez (31), and Alexa Luciano Ramos (29) were all of the trans women who were killed on the U.S. territory earlier this year. Yampi Méndez Arocho, a 19-year-old transgender man, was killed in March and his case also remains under investigation.
“At least three transgender women have been killed in less than two weeks. This level of violence — any level of violence — is unacceptable. We are not doing enough to protect transgender and gender non-conforming people, especially trans women,” HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative Tori Cooper said in a statement.
“Racism, transphobia and misogyny too often play a role in the deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people, especially trans women of color. As we are mourning the loss of Michelle, we must do more to bring this violence to an end. We must work together with lawmakers at all levels to ensure that policies have protections in place for trans people, and we must work to support our trans friends and family,” Cooper continued.
HRC Says Killings of Transgender Americans Are At An All Time High
There have been at least 31 transgender or gender non-conforming people who have died by violence this year. Three days after Vargas was fatally shot, a 33-year-old transgender woman was killed in Augusta, Georgia. The HRC said in a statement that Felycya Harris’s death “is the fourth violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in just three weeks.”
Harris ran her own company and was an interior decorator, according to the HRC.
“Everybody’s going to remember Felycya,” Harris’ friend, Ricola Collier, told WRDW-TV. “That laugh. The smile — the smiles. The talks. The arguments. The attitudes. Everybody is going to remember who Felycya Harris is. Nobody would ever forget who that is.”
Cooper told NBC News that the fatal violence against transgender or gender non-conforming people living in America is extremely high and the rights group has never seen such a high number of deaths reported at this point of the year. Cooper also noted that the fatal deaths could be underreported or misreported.
“These are especially dangerous times and resources for help are limited at best,” she told NBC News. “We need to ensure that transgender and gender non-conforming people have equal and safe access to any resources they may need to thrive — at all times, but especially during this pandemic.”
Earlier this month, the media renewed interest in Kee Sam, a 24-year-old transgender woman from Louisiana who was killed in August. Sam was shot at a hotel on NE Evangeline Thruway in Lafayette, Louisiana, on August 12 and was transported to a local hospital, Out magazine reported. She died of her injuries on August 13. A 16-year-old has been arrested in connection to the shooting.