Yelling His Name: Black Trans Mourning and the Murder of Tony McDade

George Floyd was murdered on May 25, 2020, and we stand in unequivocal support of the protests and uprisings that have swept the US since that day, and against the unconscionable violence of the police and US state. We can’t continue with business as usual. We will be celebrating Pride as an uprising. This month, Autostraddle is focusing on content related to this struggle, the fight against white supremacy and the fight for Black lives and Black futures. Instead, we’re publishing and re-highlighting work by and for Black queer and trans folks speaking to their experiences living under white supremacy and the carceral state, and work calling white people to material action.

no justice. no pride.


I wasn’t going to go to the protest, but there I was. I wasn’t going to take the streets, but my feet found the pavement. I kept telling myself that I was allowed to turn back at any time. I’d left the house in a daze, hastily writing his name on the back of a bubbly water box torn asunder, feeling driven to make the name known. I wasn’t going to take the mic, but there I was speaking. “I appreciate y’all being here for George Floyd, and I need you all to know Tony McDade.”

I’m not sure how many die ins, vigils, or marches I have done for Black lives, but I know none have been organized specifically by and for my Black trans siblings that we lose to white supremacist violence. I spent a year of my life on a master’s thesis exploring the rites and rights of mourning trans lives in this country and the history of Transgender Day of Remembrance. I tracked the steady but sure reality that every year in this country over 80% of names we read are trans people of color, a vast majority of them Black trans women and femmes. I know the lists are forever incomplete and we hold space for those we don’t know. I watch LGBTQ+ organizations with lily white executive boards somberly dash the words “intersectionality” and “anti-Blackness” in relation to transphobia, paying lip service for truths they don’t have to live.

Every year I wonder why the crowd isn’t bigger at these vigils.

My relation to Black violence and death at the hands of police shifted as my gender presentation did. No Black body is safe from police brutality, but the coverage that Black cis men get makes it seem that they are the most at risk — and I am grateful for folks finally bringing Breonna Taylor’s story to light three months after her murder at the hands of police. It took one day for George.

When I began taking hormones to align my body with my spirit, my father’s concerns were deeply rooted in our history. His first concern was that they were not in fact giving me testosterone, but pumping me full of chemicals for a medical experiment — the legacy of medical violence against Black people in the name of science follows me into every doctor’s office and checkup. As I tried to convince him that my medicine was safe he sighed and said, “you know it’s not going to be easier making people think you’re a Black man in this country.” I assured him that twenty-five years of Black androgyny in the Midwest had girded me well for whatever the world was about to throw at me.

George Floyd was murdered by the Minneapolis police department on May 25th and we’ve seen protests unfold in all fifty states with folks wielding his name on signs along with his final words, “I can’t breathe.” I non-consensually watched his final moments on film as it autoplayed again and again on my Facebook page — the number of my people lynched on film that I have witnessed never ceases to infuriate me. I will never see a white person murdered as I absentmindedly scroll through Facebook, but I doubt this is the last time I watch a Black person beg for their Mama as tiny heart reactions bubble up the screen. I proceeded with my time-honored grieving practices that carried me through Trayvon, Michael, Ahmaud Alton, Philando, Sandra, Freddie, Botham — people I never know, but whose fate lingers with fear around the edges of my every interaction. I listen to music about Black weariness that is close to a century old but still relevant, I read poetry that reminds me I’m still alive, I go to actions if my anxiety or grief allow it — and then I continue my daily checklists to prevent myself from being the next name on a sign. The next body turned hashtag.

Do my tail lights work? Will someone open my front door as I eat ice cream and open fire? Is my running outfit gay or femme enough to make me seem less of a threat? Is it safe for me to wear a hoodie in this neighborhood?

Tony McDade was shot and killed by Tallahassee PD on May 27th and I learned the news from a single twitter screenshot that originally misgendered him. The poster was complaining that they’d seen no news on this murder because the victim wasn’t a Black cis man — when they learned he wasn’t a woman they seemed to lose interest while trans celebrities became the main voices demanding justice. Janet Mock, Indya Moore, and other BIPOC trans voices made sure Tony’s story got spread. The fundraiser created for his memorial service and to support his family has almost reached ten times the original goal – largely through the effort of the Black trans community. Slowly some mainstream news outlets began picking the story up. But still, every time I go to an action his name is rarely on the posts promoting it, in the mouths of the organizers, or on other people’s signs.

Friends and family lovingly called him Tony the Tiger and recalled that he was big hearted. Tony is not the perfect victim — no Black person is in this nation’s eyes. The further we are removed from white supremacist’s heteropatriarchal value-based system, the less our death seems to matter and being Black and trans is a double affront to white supremacy. Kimberlé Crenshaw, the badass theorist and activist that gifted us with the model of intersectionality decades ago, created the #SayHerName to highlight the disparity in mourning only Black cis male victims of police brutality — highlighting this gap in recognizing victims other than Black cis men. Crenshaw launched the hashtag to highlight, like intersectionality, the interplay of racial and sexist violence and original reports of Tony’s murder used the Crenshaw’s hashtag. I found myself wanting to use the hashtag “SayHisName” for Tony to capture the matrices of violence that led to his murder, and to try and push back at all of the deadnaming and misgendering that added to the violence of his murder — but it didn’t feel enough. So again and again I add #BlackTransLivesMatter to every post and plea I make.

They’ve rolled out Tony’s rap sheet, the Facebook videos promising retaliation for the men that jumped him the day before his death, and posited that there was allegedly a knife or other weapons at the crime scene. Still. How many white boy mass shooters have we seen calmly escorted from blood drenched schools, churches, and markets? Witnesses of Tony’s shooting say the Tallahassee officer gave no warning.

Some say they called him the n-word. We don’t know the name of the officer, but he of course is bearing the weighty punishment of “administrative leave.”

I quickly swing from exaltation to exhaustion within a headline. The images of thousands packing the streets and chanting “Black Lives Matter” while ripping down statues of slave traders and setting police precincts alight stirs something so deep inside my soul I think it must be the exhalation of my ancestors’ holding their breath.

At the same time, I feel the exhaustion of well-intentioned white people that I don’t know well ask me how I’m doing without really being able to handle the weight of my worry. Or worse, the call to educate on top of mourning always makes these moments extra tiring. But I keep pushing and tell anyone that will listen that Tony’s life mattered.

At one of the actions I attended last week, I called Tony’s name into the space. I reminded people that Black Lives Matter was originally coined by three Black women, two of them queer — with the very clear intention that all Black Lives Matter — especially us on the margins. Liberation is not trickle down — as Black trans people we can’t just “wait our turn” for the police to stop killing Black cis men before we address the violence we face. We need to acknowledge intracommunal violence as our Black trans sisters like Iyanna Dior get attacked at rallies that are meant to celebrate and uplift all Black life. We need to practice what we preach and light candles and hit the streets for Tony like we do for George, we need to pack Transgender Day of Remembrance for our Black trans siblings like we do the victims of police brutality. I keep trying to get chants started for him at the marches and vigils I attend. It hasn’t caught on yet, but I have hope.

Lazarus Letcher is a Ph.D. student in American Studies, a solo musician and violist for the queer indie-folk band Eileen & the In-Betweens, and an overall tenderqueer biscuit. Their work centers Black and Indigenous solidarities/liberation, transgender folklore, and sobriety. They live on unceded Tewa Pueblo land in Albuquerque, New Mexico with their pup Mahler and a legion of plants. You can keep up with them at their website www.lazarusletcher.com or their instagram @L.Nuzzles.

Lazarus has written 3 articles for us.

6 Comments

  1. “The images of thousands packing the streets and chanting “Black Lives Matter” while ripping down statues of slave traders and setting police precincts alight stirs something so deep inside my soul I think it must be the exhalation of my ancestors’ holding their breath.”
    Such a beautiful sentence within a beautiful and burning essay. Thank you for this, Lazarus.
    I also really enjoyed your bio and now have your beautiful violining for Eileen and the In-Betweens playing :)

  2. Thanks for this. I am located in Miami, and the BLM protests here have included Tony’s name, his face has been on some of the flyers, and the organizers have led chants of “Black queer lives matter” and “Black trans lives matter”. Know that there are people (both cis and trans) trying to elevate his story.

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