DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson, Black Trans Artist, Killed in Los Angeles, California

by Laurel Powell

According to reports, DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson - a 28-year-old Black transgender woman - was a vibrant artist, born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who moved to Los Angeles in order to transition. Those who knew her called her “a well-loved and cherished friend and member of the community.

DéVonnie was tragically killed in Los Angeles, California on August 7, 2023. DéVonnie’s death is at least the 16th violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2023. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported. The Human Rights Campaign is deeply saddened to report on DéVonnie’s passing.

In yet another shocking example of the epidemic of violence facing Black trans women, we join together to mourn DéVonnie, who was just 28 years old when her life ended. Again, we must ask - how did this happen? What could have been done differently? Why is one of our sisters dead? We are again seeing examples of how our society seeks to dehumanize Black trans women. Her name was even omitted from most media reports of her death. But we will not forget her name. Her name is DéVonnie J’Rae Johnson, and her life has meaning.

Tori Cooper, Director of Community Engagement for HRC's Transgender Justice Initiative

DéVonnie was shot and killed in an altercation with a security guard just one day after her birthday, according to news reports and social media.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in California are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. California does include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected characteristic in its hate crimes law. Though we have recently seen some political gains that support and affirm transgender people, we have also faced unprecedented anti-LGBTQ+ attacks in the states. In the most recent state legislative season, more than 525 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were considered, with more than 220 of those specifically targeting transgender Americans.

We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation at the local, state and federal levels, while also considering every possible way to make ending this violence a reality. It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, especially Black transgender women like DéVonnie. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive, so we must all work together to cultivate acceptance, reject hate and end stigma for everyone in the trans and gender non-conforming community.

More resources:

  • Learn more about the fatal violence cases that HRC is tracking where details are unclear. You may find a list of these cases here.

  • Watch this PSA campaign elevating stories of trans joy and love.

  • Join HRC's CountMeIn campaign to take action for transgender and non-binary people.

  • Read these guidelines and this FAQ for journalists to ensure greater accuracy and respect in reporting.

  • Learn about how transgender and non-binary people are combating transphobia, stigma and anti-trans violence through our Celebrating Changemakers series.