More Than 15 Percent of This Year's Transgender Homicides Have Happened in Cleveland

click to enlarge More Than 15 Percent of This Year's Transgender Homicides Have Happened in Cleveland
Courtesy of
The body of Keisha Wells, 58, was identified by a family member at the Cuyahoga County Medical Examiner's Office after being killed on Detroit Avenue near West 87th Street early Sunday morning.

Wells' body was discovered a few blocks away from Cocktails, one of the last remaining gay bars in Cleveland, despite it's arguably "rough" location. According to police, her body was found alongside eleven bullet casings, and had died from what appeared to be a gunshot wound to the abdomen.

Wells is the seventh person to be killed in Cleveland in the last six days, and she is the second transwoman to be killed in Cleveland this year.

Last February, another transwoman of color, 45-year-old Phylicia Mitchell was found shot and killed outside of her home on West 112th Street near Detroit Avenue.

Two of these deaths contribute to the now 13 reported transgender homicides committed across the country, meaning Cleveland is home to 15.38 percent of 2018's transgender death toll.

The disturbing reality is that these numbers likely underreport deadly violence targeting transgender people, who may not be properly identified as transgender.

Before Keisha Wells' body was identified, Fox 8 reported "a male, who appeared to be transgender" had been murdered.

People don't "appear to be transgender," they either are transgender, or they are not. Reporting that someone appears transgender perpetuates the dangerous narrative that transgender people are trying to deceive with their outward appearance, and it puts them at risk for violence.

Despite the treacherous rhetoric emboldened by some conservatives who falsely claim that transgender people are a danger to society, the trans community is being targeted for violence at an epidemic rate.

click to enlarge More Than 15 Percent of This Year's Transgender Homicides Have Happened in Cleveland (2)
Courtesy of the Human Rights Campaign

The fact that Cleveland has had two murders of transwomen of color in the last four months is completely unacceptable, and we need to identify and analyze why this is happening in our community.

First things first, we need to remember that there are currently no statewide protections in Ohio for sexual orientation outside of state employment, and only 20 Ohio cities and counties have anti-discrimination ordinances prohibiting employment and housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

It was less than two weeks ago that County Executive Armond Budish introduced legislation to include sexual orientation and gender identity under the list of protections.

Scene reported on Monday that the Ohio GOP is trying to push legislation that would allow parents the right to deny their transkids the ability to transition to their affirmed gender. We treat transgender people in this country as second class citizens, so it's no wonder they are disproportionately targeted for violence.

Another major problem is how we report and discuss the murders of transgender people.

Irresponsible coverage like the one previously linked to from Fox 8 needs to be called out for what it is, because otherwise there will be no growth or education regarding the conversation of trans representation.

Scene isn't faultless, given that we used the wildly problematic term "transgendered," in 2013, just as has done in the past as well.

The use of the "-ed" after "transgender" makes it sound like transgender is something that happens to you, rather than something you are. We wouldn't say that someone was "blacked" or "Asianed."

It's uncomfortable to hold ourselves accountable for problematic language, but the only way we can enact change and better our discussions and thereby improve public consciousness is by identifying these shortcomings.

Just last week, Donna Minkowitz, a writer for The Village Voice who broke the story about Brandon Teena, a transman who was murdered and later inspired the story of the Oscar-winning film Boys Don't Cry wrote a reflection piece 25 years later admitting she had "botched" and disrespectfully reported on what is arguably the biggest and most widely recognized reporting of her entire career.

We need to use the correct (not preferred, correct) pronouns. We need to stop worrying about whether or not we're the first to report on a murder victim and make sure we're identifying them properly. We need to stop deadnaming trans victims. We need to be better.

Perhaps if we start talking about transgender people as exactly that, people, then maybe others will view them as such and the murders will stop.

EDIT: This article previously featured a statistic stating Trans people have a 1 in 12 chance of being murdered, while a cis person has a 1-in-18,000 chance of being murdered. While trans people are absolutely being murdered at an epidemic rate, the 1 in 12 statistic has been debunked.