Photo Source: JanetMock.com
On Tuesday, members of New York City’s LGBTQ community came out to mourn and stand in solidarity with Islan Nettles, a transgender woman who died following an attack in Harlem.
Hundreds gathered for the vigil near the site of the attack. Nettles was out with friends when approached by a group of men, who attacked them after learning that Nettles was transgender. As of last Friday, NYPD has ruled Nettle’s death a homicide, and are investigating the case as a hate crime, according to The Daily News.
The vigil was organized by Nettles’ mother and several New York City LGBT organizations, including Harlem Pride, Gay Men of African Descent, and NYC Black Pride. According to ColorLines, Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, several City Councilmen, and the city’s mayoral candidates, including Christine Quinn, Anthony Weinger, and Bill de Blasio attended the vigil.
Yet many in the crowd felt the vigil could have been more inclusive of trans voices at the podium. Transgender women of color are one of the most at-risk groups for anti-gay hate crime in New York, which the New York Police Department says has increased 70 percent in 2013.
Harlem Pride director Carmen Neely asked the crowd to understand that the evening was meant to be a vigil, not a political rally. "We all know that things need to change and things need to happen and that's very important," said Neely, according to the Huffington Post. "But tonight, let's focus on Islan, her life, and listening to her family and her mother address us all."
Janet Mock, a transgender black woman, wrote about the experience in a letter, saying, “We are still vulnerable – just as Islan was – and that is not a political issue. That is truth, a truth that we are reminded of every time we step out of the comfort of our homes and are called out of our names, identities and bodies on our streets.” (Read Mock’s letter here.)
Actress Laverne Cox, a transgender woman who recently played in the TV show Orange is the New Black, also spoke at the vigil. "I know there are lots of people out there who are upset that she's been called by the wrong pronoun," she said. "That hurts me, too. I stand here as a trans woman of color and my heart aches for this loss. I think that what the trans community needs to hear is that our lives matter."
Several community dialogues are planned to raise these important issues. A community speak-out is being planned for Sept. 4 by Transjustice, a group based out of the Audre Lorde Project. The speakout is exclusively for transgender and gender non-conforming people, and an ally event is being planned for Sept. 19.
New York State Senator Brad Hoylman released a report on the recent spike in LGBTQ-related hate crimes in New York City. Citing a critical need for more education and increased legal protection for targeted communities, Hoylman urged the senate to pass the Gender Non-Discrimination Act.
"The truth is that in most parts of New York, transgender individuals have little recourse to protect themselves from the violence, hatred and discrimination afflicted upon them," Holyman said in a statement. "Ms. Nettles's death should serve as a wake-up call to my colleagues in the state Senate that we need to act now to protect New Yorkers like her, and ensure that she did not die in vain."
Nationwide, 72 percent of anti-LGBTQ murders in America affected people of color and 53 percent of those were transgender women, according to the New York Anti-Violence Project. Just within the last month, two similar crimes have occurred in Pennsylvania and California, resulting in the grisly murders of transwomen Diamond Williams and Domonique Newburn.
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