In a year that brought some major victories for transgender Americans, over 40 were murdered for their identity.
DETROIT—Once again, it has been the most dangerous year to be transgender in America. While Michiganders aren’t among the more than 40 reported deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming Americans, the murders of principally women of color send shockwaves that reverberate through Michigan.
That wasn’t the case last year. Detroiter Paris Cameron flirted with Devon Kareem Robinson at a gas station one night in 2019, and invited him to a party. Robinson initially declined the offer, but after dry-heaving at the gas station where he met Cameron, he eventually decided to attend the party.
He killed three people, including Cameron, and wounded two others.
“You see the figure emerge running toward where the house party was. He kicks in the door and begins [to] just fire indiscriminately, killing three people,” prosecutor Jaimie Powell Horowitz told People Magazine. “Two others survived, but watched their friends die in their arms.”
Emmanuelle Emani Love, who knew Cameron, called her “a flower of Detroit” in her article on Medium’s Know Their Names series about murders of trans women of color. That flower didn’t get to bloom this year.
Though no Paris Camerons were reported in Michigan in 2020, Equality Michigan Executive Director Erin Knott says that doesn’t mean they weren’t out there.
“There are barriers to reporting acts of violence against trans women and trans people in general,” Knott told The ‘Gander. “There’s a lack of trust related to law enforcement, there’s a lack [of trust] in the hospital system, the entire network related to providing public safety when you’re experiencing bullying, intimidation, or a crime against you.”
That said, Knott was actually optimistic about 2020. Transgender Americans had a lot to celebrate this year, thanks to Michigan transwoman Aimee Stephens. Stephens won a landmark Supreme Court case, one of the last on which Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg presided, which banned employment discrimination on the basis of gender identity, arguing that in essence gender identity discrimination was sex discrimination and therefore outlawed under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
And a ballot initiative to expand Michigan’s own civil rights legislation, the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act of 1976, is poised to make the 2022 ballot in Michigan if the Legislature doesn’t adopt it first. But the death toll for transgender Americans continues to rise.
“That won’t mitigate the acts of violence against trans people,” Knott admitted, “but it’s one step closer to ensuring we now have a legal mechanism to go after discrimination when we know trans people are disproportionally impacted.”
Knott also advocated for modernizing Michigan’s hate crimes legislation to include sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression, which would provide legal recourse for harassment targeting marginalized and vulnerable groups like transgender Michiganders.
In the meantime, Knott encouraged any LGBTQ Michigander who is facing a dire situation to reach out to Equality Michigan.
“Whether it’s a landlord or stalking or an ex,” she said. “Reach out to our Department of Victim Services where we have victim advocates on staff that provide a service 24/7 to folks in the LGBTQ+ community that are experiencing harassment, discrimination and acts of violence.”
From helping liaise with courts and law enforcement when a victim is afraid to file a victim impact statement to providing temporary accommodations at hotels to help navigating mental health services, Knott said that Equality Michigan is equipped to help LGBTQ Michiganders.