Honoring Yella (Robert) Clark Jr., transgender inmate killed in Louisiana

by Shoshana K. Goldberg

Yella, a 45-year-old Black transgender person, who was serving a life sentence at Angola prison in Louisiana, was killed in a fight with several other inmates on April 2, 2024. Their death is at least the 16th violent killing of a transgender or gender expansive person HRC has learned of in 2024, and the fifth to be killed in the month of April alone. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported. The Human Rights Campaign is deeply saddened to report on Yella’s passing.

With Yella, misreporting and misgendering in initial reports led to delays in HRC’s own reporting. Most articles referred to them with their birth name and sex assigned at birth, though evidence suggests Clark may have used both Yella and Robert (their birth name) in prison. They identified as transgender, had been diagnosed with gender dysphoria, and had begun taking female hormones to physically transition while incarcerated. We do not know which pronouns they used, or which name they preferred, but we will be using Yella and they/them pronouns throughout the rest of this blog.

Yella was incarcerated at Angola prison in Louisiana at the time of their death. Specifical details about the circumstances of their death have not been released; however, news articles, including the Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate, which first noted Yella’s transgender identity, report that Yella and three other inmates “got into an altercation around 10 a.m.” that was stopped by “correctional officers making routine rounds.”

Speaking to the Shreveport-Bossier City Advocate, Terrance Winn, a criminal justice reform advocate who was incarcerated alongside Yella, described them as a “loyal and trustworthy person” whose identity led them to be “a target” at Angola, where “that kind of thing (being trans and/or queer) can make things a little bit more dangerous for you.”

Unfortunately, Yella’s history at Angola further supports this statement. Though they were initially incarcerated in 2014 for 75 years for armed robbery, in 2018, they were further sentenced to life in prison after killing another inmate, Dolan Franklin. However, in an appeal of this sentence, filed with the Louisiana First Circuit Court of Appeals, Yella and their lawyers alleged that this was done in self-defense, after the inmate in question had raped Yella the day prior, following several weeks of sexual and physical harassment and threats. Though Yella had requested to be moved from the unit where they were housed along with Franklin, the request was initially delayed till the following day. It was during a second attempted rape by Franklin that night, that Yella attacked and killed him. Just two weeks prior to their death, the Court of Appeals denied Yella’s appeal and upheld their life sentence, citing conflicting evidence, and stating that threats and harassment alone were insufficient to justify homicide.

Yella was finally living their truth--something that everyone deserves to do, no matter their circumstances. Yet the circumstances of their death, and the harassment and violence faced while incarcerated, show that the system failed them as it does far too often for trans and gender-expansive people."

Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative

Unfortunately, several of the details of Yella’s death are far too familiar: Since 2013, Yella is the 17th trans or gender-expansive person to die at the hands of law enforcement, and/or while incarcerated. Over 41% of these deaths occurred in the South, and more than half of those killed (56%) were trans women or transfeminine in some way.

In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Yella was misgendered in some media and police reports—despite the fact that they testified in court about their transgender identity and were receiving gender-affirming hormones through Angola prison. In the last 11 years that HRC has been tracking fatal violence against the transgender and gender-expansive community, approximately two-thirds of all known victims were misgendered by the media and/or by law enforcement. Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment by some in the media, law enforcement and elected offices. In the pursuit of greater accuracy and respect, HRC offers guidelines for journalists and others who report on transgender people. HRC, Media Matters and the Trans Journalists Association have also partnered on an FAQ for reporters writing about anti-trans 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-expansive 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.
  • 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.