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“We’re Left to Defend Ourselves on the Margins”: 8 Black Trans Women Have Been Murdered This Year

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Image Credit: Facebook: Chynal Lindsey

The body of 26-year-old Chynal Lindsey was recovered Saturday from a lake in Northeast Dallas. Police said they are investigating her death as a homicide. Chynal is the third transgender black woman killed in Dallas since October, including the high-profile death of Muhlaysia Booker just two weeks ago. Another Dallas trans woman was stabbed multiple times in April but survived. Trans rights activists say the violence in Dallas is indicative of the larger threat to black transgender women. At least eight black trans women have been murdered in the U.S. this year. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 26 transgender murders were recorded last year, although it’s likely the actual number is higher; the majority of those were black transgender women. We speak with Ashlee Marie Preston, a media personality and civil rights activist. She made history as the first transgender editor-in-chief of a national publication—Wear Your Voice magazine—as well as the first openly trans person to run for state office in California. She says, “Our law enforcement are looking at black trans women as women who are breaking the law, instead of looking at the laws that are breaking black trans women.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we continue our conversation about the violence faced by transgender women by looking at the spate of killings of black trans women in the United States. The body of 26-year-old Chynal Lindsey was recovered Saturday from a lake in Northeast Dallas. Police said they are investigating her death as a homicide. She is the third transgender black woman killed in Dallas since October, including the high-profile death of Muhlaysia Booker just two weeks ago. Another Dallas trans woman was stabbed multiple times in April but survived. The city’s police chief, U. Reneé Hall, addressed the spate of violence in a news conference Monday.

POLICE CHIEF U. RENEÉ HALL: The Dallas Police Department has reached out to the FBI, because, as we know, this is the second individual who is transgender who is deceased in our community, and we are concerned. We are actively and aggressively investigating this case, and we have reached out to our federal partners to assist us in these efforts.

AMY GOODMAN: The Dallas police chief. Trans rights activists say the violence in Dallas is indicative of the larger threat to black transgender women. At least eight black trans women have been murdered in the United States this year. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 26 transgender murders were recorded last year, although it’s likely the actual number is much higher. The majority of those were black transgender women.

For more, we’re joined by Ashlee Marie Preston, a media personality, civil rights activist. She made history as the first transgender editor-in-chief of a national publication—Wear Your Voice magazine—as well as the first openly trans person to run for state office in California.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Thank you for joining us from Los Angeles. Ashlee, can you talk about this latest death in Dallas? Can you talk about what happened to Chynal?

ASHLEE MARIE PRESTON: I think what we’re seeing is an ongoing trend of a lack of access for black trans women. I think there’s a larger conversation that should be had around our experiences at the intersections of race, gender and socioeconomic disparity. What often happens is that black trans women have difficult times attaining employment, housing, legal aid, healthcare, social support and anything that would set us up to thrive. And so, we’re left to defend ourselves on the margins of society. And from what it appears, in Dallas, she’s just another who had to deal with that disparity by herself.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to ask about Muhlaysia Booker, a 23-year-old black transgender woman who was fatally shot in Dallas last month. The month before she was killed, a cellphone video of a crowd physically attacking Booker as she lay on the ground made headlines. Police say men in the video were shouting homophobic slurs at Booker, who eventually got away with the help of a group of women. Authorities say there’s nothing connecting the perpetrator of last month’s attack, Edward Thomas, to her shooting as of now. I’m wondering your thoughts.

ASHLEE MARIE PRESTON: That is correct. I think, going back to it, this is a systemic issue. I think oftentimes law enforcement address it as if it is a isolated incident, but the issue, it really is a lack of support and safety for black trans women.

I can only speak from a first-person perspective. When I came from Kentucky at 19 years old, I got a job. I transitioned on the job. And I was fired because I was being harassed, and I ended up becoming homeless. I was on the streets of Hollywood. I had to engage in survival sex work, and I ended up using methamphetamine as a social lubricant to be able to navigate everything that I had to do in the name of survival.

What I noticed when I was on the streets of Hollywood is that whenever there would be deaths of a black trans women and we saw the uptick of violence, law enforcement, as a means of helping us, would actually target us, and we would be profiled. And we faced more violence while incarcerated, for those of us who that’s a part of their story. So, the issue is that our law enforcement are looking at black trans women as women who are breaking the law, instead of looking at the laws that are breaking black trans women.

And so, I think it’s an opportunity for our federal, state and local officials to be more intentional about implementing policies that are going to serve black trans women. When you’re looking at resources, if you’re trying to attain employment, that’s not going to help you if you have a hard time gaining access to housing. If you’re trying to gain access to housing, that does nothing for you if you’re experiencing intimate partner violence. And so, what we need are programs that are prepared to address dual disenfranchisement at the same time.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Ashlee, you started a campaign called Thrive Over 35. Could you talk about what that is?

ASHLEE MARIE PRESTON: So, Thrive Over 35 is an opportunity for us to reimagine our lives as black trans women outside of a casket or a jail cell. I feel that what happens often when we’re talking about the deaths of black trans women, we’re caught up in this trauma porn around how we die and at whose hands we die at. But it’s an opportunity for us to take a look and examine the barriers that place us in front of the barrel of the gun.

So, in Thrive Over 35, I talk about the lack of access to employment, the lack of access to education, the lack of access to healthcare, the lack of access to legal aid. I talk about the fact that even in communities that have larger movements in play, like for women, when we’re not seen as women, we don’t have access to those movements. In the African-American community sometimes, LGBTQ issues are seen as secondary issues, so we don’t have the protection there oftentimes. When we’re looking at the LGBTQIA umbrella, there are individuals who use their sexuality as a shield to absolve them of the responsibility of dismantling sexist, racist and transphobic policies and systems.

And so, Thrive Over 35 is an opportunity for black trans women and brown trans women to show up for ourselves and to be a beacon and hope of light for one another. And it’s also an opportunity to engage our would-be allies to figure out how they can do the work to help liberate us.

AMY GOODMAN: Ashlee, last month, the Trump administration announced a change in HUD policy that would allow homeless shelters and other facilities that receive federal housing money to deny access to transgender people. The rule also lets programs house transgender individuals alongside others of their birth sex, refusing to let them share facilities with people of the same gender identity. If you can comment on this, and then what you feel is most important needs to happen to protect the trans community?

ASHLEE MARIE PRESTON: I think when we’re looking at human rights, we have to realize that trans people are seen as less than human. And that really broke my heart when I heard the story about HUD and the Trump administration, because that was what happened to me when I became homeless, as I mentioned, at 19 years old. Women’s shelters wouldn’t accept me because of my assigned gender at birth. And I was so desperate, I was willing to be housed with men. Like, I was that far down in the gutter. And men’s shelters turned me away because I obviously read female.

And so, I think what it really is going to require from our government and our state and local officials is an intentionality to show up for us. Don’t just give us the scraps that fall from the table of some of these other programs, but really be intentional about showing up for black trans women. There’s an opportunity for us to create a task force, actually. I know, in California, there’s a task force that addresses homelessness, and it looks at the different barriers to access that homeless people have. We need to do that on the federal level for black trans women.

And it’s one of the main reasons why I endorsed presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren, is because she’s one of the few candidates who are actually breaking down all of those needs and tackling them head on. We don’t need more officials in office who are going to be intellectually lazy. We need officials who are going to do the work, lean more into the nuance instead of the noise, and are going to ask the community directly impacted what it is that we need to stay alive, to grow strong and to thrive.

AMY GOODMAN: Ashlee Marie Preston, we want to thank you very much for being with us, civil rights activist—

ASHLEE MARIE PRESTON: Thank you for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: —media personality, made history as the first transgender editor-in-chief of a national publication—Wear Your Voice magazine—as well as the first openly trans person to run for state office in California. Thanks so much for being with us.

That does it for our show. Our condolences to our Democracy Now! colleague Jon Randolph on the death of his father, Robert Randolph.

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Trump Admin Attempts to Erase Existence of Trans People After Years of GOP-Led Attacks on Freedoms

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