HRC Honors Cherry Bush, a Transgender Woman Killed in Los Angeles

by Jared Todd

Cherry Bush lived in the Sylmar neighborhood of Los Angeles. Cherry was loved by her family. Her brother called her his “oldest friend” on social media. Cherry, a 48-year-old transgender woman, was experiencing homelessness when she was shot and killed on July 5 after being targeted and disparaged based on her perceived gender identity. Cherry’s death is at least the 22nd violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2022. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.

Cherry Bush should still be with us today. She was a transgender woman who was targeted, shot and killed for simply existing. Every day, transgender people are targeted and ridiculed just for living our lives. Ongoing stigma and ugly anti-transgender rhetoric contribute to the violence we face nationwide. We must do more to protect transgender lives and stand up against discrimination in all its forms. We are fellow human beings worthy of respect and dignity, no matter one’s current position in life."

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

A suspect has been arrested and charged with one count each of murder and attempted murder, with a hate crime allegation, according to the LA County District Attorney.

People in the transgender and gender non-conforming community often experience homelessness and financial insecurity at a disproportionate level. One study using data from 2016-2019 found that over 8% of transgender adults had experienced homelessness at least once in the previous year, more than six times that of cisgender/straight adults (1.4%). Among youth, a report from HRC Foundation found that over one-fifth (22%) of transgender high school students were “usually sleeping somewhere that is not the home of their parent or guardian,” compared to 3% of non-LGBTQ+ youth. This is an epidemic that has been growing in recent years in the United States; according to the National Alliance to End Homelessness transgender individual homelessness is up 57% since 2017. The roots of homelessness start in childhood, particularly among transgender youth, who experience higher rates of family rejection and childhood abuse–but it is also tied to factors in adulthood such as inequal shelter access and lack of anti-discrimnation protections for transgender and gender non-conforming people in employment, housing, social services, education and health care–the latter of which also translates to higher rates of poverty and financial insecurity, further increasing risk for homelessness. In 2021, transgender women earned just 60 cents for every dollar earned by the average American worker (and non-binary, genderqueer, genderfluid, and two-spirit workers earned just 70 cents on the dollar), translating to transgender women earning almost $21,000 less a year than the median American salary.

More than 10,000 hate crimes in the U.S. involve a firearm each year, which equates to more than 28 each day, according to a 2020 report from HRC, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Giffords Law Center and Equality Florida titled “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. According to the 2017-2022 Transgender Homicide Tracker, the vast majority of three-fourths of confirmed homicides against transgender people have involved a gun, with Black transgender women accounting for 73% of all transgender gun homicide victims. Further, advocates saw a 43% increase in the formation of anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups in 2019.

In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Cherry 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 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 anti-LGBTQ+ attacks at many levels of government this year. As of this writing, more than 270 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are under consideration in state legislatures across the country, more than 110 of which directly target transgender people.

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:

Read theseguidelines and thisFAQ for journalists to ensure greater accuracy and respect in reporting.