Honoring The Life of Thomas ‘Tom-Tom’ Robertson

by Jose Soto

Thomas ‘Tom-Tom’ Robertson, a 28-year-old Black gender non-conforming person, was working as a cook at a local IHOP restaurant in East Chicago, Indiana, having relocated there from Chicago, Illinois, where ‘Tom-Tom’ was born and raised. Thomas was known for frequently changing hair color and styles, showcasing them by posting many photos online.

On August 17, 2023, Thomas and another 25-year-old individual were victims of a fatal shooting in Calumet City, Illinois, marking at least the 17th 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 Thomas’ passing.

Thomas is also the 14th person of color and the 11th Black transgender or gender non-conforming person violently killed this year.

Despite life-saving efforts from the Calumet City police, who had responded to a 911 call reporting gunshot victims at the 300 block of Paxton Avenue, Thomas was pronounced dead at the scene. The other victim was taken to a nearby hospital in critical condition.

All forms of gun violence are a tragedy, and our community continues to bear the brunt of it. Like so many other transgender and gender non-conforming individuals in this country, Thomas’ life was recklessly cut short due to gun violence, and at such a young age. Thomas should be here today, continuing to live life openly and authentically as anyone else. In calling for an end to violence against our community, we must also call for an increase in gun control efforts.”

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

As of publishing, there are no updates to the investigation of Thomas’ and the other individual’s fatal shooting. Calumet City detectives are continuing to conduct an investigation as are the South Suburban Major Crimes Task Force. Anyone with information related to this incident is encouraged to call 708-868-2500.

More than 25,000 hate crimes in the U.S. involve a firearm each year, which equates to almost 70 cases, according to a 2022 report from Everytown for Gun Safety in partnership with HRC and The Equality Federation Support Fund, “Remembering and Honoring Pulse: Anti-LGBTQ Bias and Guns Are Taking Lives of Countless LGBTQ People.” The report also notes a marked increase in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, especially against transgender people. Since HRC began tracking fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2023, a total of 227 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been killed with a gun or firearm–almost 70% of all cases. In 2023 alone, over 82% of transgender and gender non-conforming people violently killed were killed with a gun; Thomas was the 14th person this year to lose his life to gun violence.

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. 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 Count Me In 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.