Story at a glance
- Felycya Harris is the 31st transgender person reported fatally shot or killed by other violent means.
- A disproportionate number of those killed are Black and Latina transgender women.
- The number may be higher, considering that such violence sometimes goes unreported or is misreported.
As the COVID-19 death toll climbs higher above 200,000 in the United States, those who have lost their loved ones are fighting to recognize the individuals over the statistics. Now another community, which has also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, is marking a second record-breaking death toll in the epidemic of violence against transgender Americans.
Felycya Harris, 33, was fatally shot and found dead in Augusta, Ga., on Oct. 3, becoming the 31st transgender or gender non-conforming person killed in the United States this year. With a few months still ahead, the number of transgender Americans reported killed in 2020 has surpassed the 26 killed in 2019.
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While such data is not officially collected by the federal government, LGBTQ organization the Human Rights Campaign said this year’s total matches 2017’s count as the highest number of violent deaths the nonprofit has tracked in one year, since it began keeping record in 2013.
“This epidemic of violence, which is particularly impacting transgender women of color, must and can be stopped. We must work to address the factors that underpin this culture of violence and openly discuss how the intersection of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia work to deprive transgender and gender non-conforming people of equal access to opportunity and necessities like employment, housing and health care,” said HRC President Alphonso David in a statement.
The campaign noted that Georgia passed hate crime legislation earlier this year, but did not explicitly cover gender identity, and still “inclusive state non-discrimination protections in employment, housing and public spaces.”
Harris, a Black transgender woman, was an interior decorator, business owner, dancer and more than just a mark in a tally. But as one of an estimated 1.4 million adults who identify as transgender in the United States, she is also a victim of an epidemic of violence against LGBTQ people that disproportionately harms transgender women of color. Just a few days earlier, Michelle Michellyn Ramos Vargas, a transgender woman in Puerto Rico, was shot and killed — the sixth death in the U.S. territory this year.
“Typically, the only time people listen to trans people, and trans women specifically, is when we become victims of a homicide. And then it’s already too late,” Naomi Simmons-Thorne, a trans-rights activist, told a local news outlet.
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