Feature Image via dnainfo.com
Islan Nettles, a 21-year-old trans* woman of color, died from the injuries she sustained during a hate crime attack when she was taken off life support on Thursday. Nettles was attacked in Harlem by a group of men after they found out that she and her friends were transgender. Nettles is the second trans* woman of color to be murdered in the last week after Domonique Newburn was found murdered in her Fontana, California apartment on Tuesday.
Before she became the victim of a cruel and vicious hate crime, Nettles was well-liked and was often seen hanging out with a group of her transgender friends. She had worked at Harlem Children’s Zone as an assistant photographer and fashion instructor and also was working as an intern assistant designer at Ay’Medici in Harlem. She said on her LinkedIn page that she loved working in fashion.
Making my way into the Fashion industry has been my target since middle school. Fashion became a definite decision for my life after my first show with my hand designed garments in high school at the 11th grade.
Newburn was also a well-loved figure in her community. She was an actress and aspiring singer who was one of the stars in the 2010 internet reality show Hollywood Houseboys about a group of gay friends trying to succeed in the entertainment industry. She had said that one of her goals was to become the first transgender person “to one day have a hit song on iTunes.”
The disturbing reality is that these kinds of crimes are not rare. Trans* women of color, and especially black trans* women, are especially vulnerable to this kind of crime. Another African American trans* woman, Diamond Williams, was horrifically murdered in Philadelphia only a month ago. These three appalling crimes in the span of just a month are sadly indicative of a larger trend. In 2011, 87% of anti-LGBTQ murder victims were people of color and 45% were transgender women. The numbers weren’t any better last year, with 73% of the victims were people of color and 53% being trans* women.
When transgender women are the victims of crimes, they are often misgendered and mis-named in the news stories that report their deaths. This is despite the AP Style Book being clear on how to write about transgender people and GLAAD releasing a report titled “Doubly Victimized” about the mistreatment of transgender crime victims in the news. Additionally, in many cases the murders go unsolved. It’s sad, but trans* women often have just as much trouble finding respect in death as they had in life.
This is why it’s important that news sources use the correct pronouns, name and terminology when discussing Chelsea Manning. This is why it’s so disturbing when news anchors mock and belittle transgender students and the laws that are meant to protect them. When the mass media regularly dehumanizes trans* people in this way, it perpetuates the idea that this is an acceptable way to treat us. The news is supposed to inform viewers. And right now, what they’re “informing” them of is that trans* people are bad and different and are constantly coming up with insidious plots to spy on people in bathrooms. They are teaching their viewers that it’s okay to mock us and bully us and hate us. While great strides are being made in the fight for the equal treatment of transgender people, things are still incredibly bleak in many other areas — and the people who experience the worst part of this bleak reality are usually women, and usually of color.
Unfortunately for Islan Nettles, Domonique Newburn and the many other trans* women murdered simply for being who they are, not everyone is able to escape the transphobic culture that permeates so much of American society. Trans* women of color have to navigate a dangerous world where they face not only transphobia, but also misogyny and racism. Far too often these paths violently collide, leaving trans* women in their wake. These unnecessary tragedies are just another clear example of how much work we really have to do before any kind of equality is reached for transgender people.
“It’s sad, but trans* women often have just as much trouble finding respect in death as they had in life.”
What a tragically poetic way of putting it. Kudos to you, Mey, for writing about these awful events with such grace.
Damn, this hits really, really hard. There has been so much negative shit about the trans community in the news lately, even more than usual it seems. What the fuck.
Thank you for writing this Mey, it’s sad to see so many trans*women of color stories swept under the rug or used as a talking point without their voices being reflected and heard in the discussion. It reminds me of when I attended TDOS and too many names that were read (and grossly mispronounced) were trans*women of color. My heart breaks, honestly.
Thanks for this post, Mey. Islan Nettles was murdered across the street from my apartment – across the street from a police station and only a block from the home of Harlem Pride this year. I’ve walked down this block many times, and I always tell people how safe my neighborhood is. It’s a neighborhood of families, of people looking out for one another.
I don’t know what is happening right now…
Rachel, a lot of times safety has more to do with who you are rather than where you are.
Gina, I completely agree with you. Sadly, as Mey pointed out, this violence is happening everywhere. I know that when I walk down the street as a white, cis woman, I am seen as someone who needs to be rescued. When a trans* WOC walks down the street, she is seen as a threat. It’s complete bullshit and angers me to the point of tears. And reading stories about Islan and Dominique and Diamond… all of these beautiful people murdered out of fear and ignorance… I guess I related it more to my surroundings than to the actual people. Apologies if my naive selfishness came off as ignorance. This just makes me so sad.
I had heard about Islan but not Domonique, so fucking angry about this. I cannot fathom the kind of thinking that would lead people to attack other people for existing in a different manner from them.
Cannot fathom? Imagine your beloved daughter losing the desired 1st prize to some sort of soulless Terminator princess in a primary school swimming competition and crying.
The darkness is branded right there onto the older, subconsciously operating parts of our neural architecture. If it can be overcome it’s by confronting it rather than denial.
It’s gut wrenching that such accomplished, compassionate women can be destroyed like this. Productive members of society. Humans that were just trying to live their lives the best way they could.
What a waste. They were so young.
Thank you for writing this, Mey. This is so heart-breaking.
Just so horrible and sad – what is wrong with our society?
Thank you for writing this, I just wish it would reach more people, the people who really need to read these things and hear about these events. I hope your voice is one day heard all over the internet, Mey, you write so well and yet somehow so simply, so succinctly, about such frustrating issues.
Yeah. As important as the Chelsea Manning story is, seeing the coverage and attention paid to it by the trans women’s community while these at-least-equally-important stories go much less noticed is really disappointing.
It’s not surprising, I guess. My community is as shitty as any other along the axis of race. Trans WOC have commented on how this disparity in coverage reflects the rift in our community, but those commentaries are not getting the publicity they deserve. I feel like it’s passing most cis people and white trans people by seemingly without a sound.
this is crazy! i’ve only been following autostraddle news closely for a few months now, and i found this post quite by accident, but i’m traumatized by the link about the fontana woman. My family lives in Fontana, not too far away from the incident, literally 2.7 miles away. and the park where they found her car is near where i live. i always here about trans ppl being attacked, but its just so much scarier and real when its in YOUR neighborhood. when its people you may have bumped into in the grocery store and im very sad for the lost of her life and her family’s loss of a relative.