HRC Grieves Loss of Jacob Williamson, Teenage Transgender Man, Killed in North Carolina

by Kathryn Smith

Jacob Williamson, an 18-year-old white transgender man, was tragically killed in Monroe, North Carolina, on June 30th. Williamson loved to sing and draw. He lived in South Carolina and worked at a local Waffle House, and was beloved by coworkers. Williamson’s death is at least the 14th 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.

About a month prior to his death, Jacob was forced to leave his home after being rejected by some family members for being transgender. However, he had recently moved in with one of his coworkers, Promise Edwards.

This world was so cruel to Jacob his entire life. I find peace in knowing that in the last month and a half, he found peace.

Promise Edwards, Williamson's close friend and coworker

The fatal attacks against our community are always heartbreaking, but that heartbreak is compounded when the person killed is so young and unable to live out their hopes and dreams. Williamson was a light to so many, and we stand with those who loved him as they seek justice.

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

Williamson was last seen leaving his job with a man who he had been talking to online for around a month. They were reportedly going on a date to an amusement park several hours away. Williamson had shared his location with Edwards, who noted that it was “pinging all over the place,” but police could not find Williamson in any of those locations. His body was finally recovered near a road on July 4th. Police have taken two suspects into custody — the man who picked Williamson up in his car, and a woman who is suspected to have aided the man after he committed the murder.

Tragically, interpersonal violence accounts for a significant number of fatalities against transgender and gender non-conforming people. A report by the HRC Foundation, “An Epidemic of Violence 2022” found that between 2013 and 2022, approximately one third (29%) of transgender and gender non-conforming people with known killers had their lives taken by an acquaintance, friend, family member or intimate partner. Intimate partners specifically accounted for one in five (19%) of all known perpetrators–and it is likely this may even be an undercount. To date, the relationship of the victim to the killer is still unknown for a plurality of 44% of all identified cases of fatal violence.

Additionally, according to the 2015 United States Transgender Survey, 54% of transgender and non-binary people have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their life. Last year, HRC released a report, titled “LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence and COVID-19,” that details the increased risk of interpersonal violence faced by LGBTQ+ people which has been exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Williamson was misgendered in some media and police reports. Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment by some in the media, law enforcement and elected offices. According to HRC research, it is estimated that approximately three-quarters of all known victims were misgendered by the media and/or by law enforcement. 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.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in South Carolina are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. South Carolina does not include sexual orientation or 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. As of this writing, more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced into state legislatures across the country during 2023, nearly 150 of which directly target transgender people. Over 75 bills passed, making 2023 the worst year on record for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.

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.