HRC Mourns Angel Unique, Black Trans Woman Killed in Memphis, Tenn.

by Madeleine Roberts

HRC is horrified to learn of the death of Angel Unique, whom some reports identify as Angel Haynes, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman who was killed in Memphis, Tenn. Angel, who was a licensed cosmetologist, was killed early in the morning on Sunday, October 25 as the result of a gunshot wound. Her death is believed to be at least the 34th violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year in the U.S. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.

HRC has officially recorded more violent deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people than any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013. Previously, the highest known number of fatal deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people over a 12-month period was in 2017, when we reported 31 people violently killed.

“We have lost yet another Black trans woman to deadly violence in this country,” said HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative Tori Cooper. “Despite the fact that we are living through the coronavirus pandemic, transgender and gender non-conforming people are also still facing an epidemic of violence. We are also living in an extremely vitriolic period, where hate, prejudice, racism and transphobia are fueled by many in power. This is contributing to a rise in animosity and an increase in fatal violence against trans and gender non-conforming people. We need our allies to take action to support us today and every day. As we mourn Angel’s loss along with her friends and family, we will continue working for an end to this senseless violence.”

On Friday, October 30, Angel’s friends and family held a vigil to remember her, where they lit candles that spelled her name and released balloons. Friends and family have also been sharing their memories of her. “Everybody that knew Angel, knew that she was very funny, very nice to everybody she met,” said her friend Shinese Weddle in a video for ABC 24, a local news station in Memphis. A member of Angel’s family remembered her on Facebook as “such a bright person [with] a positive spirit.”

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 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. Since HRC began tracking this violence in 2013, two-thirds of victims have been Black trans women and more than 60% of incidents have involved gun violence. Further, advocates saw a 43% increase in the formation of anti-LGBTQ hate groups in 2019.

Currently, no suspect information is available. The Memphis Police Department encourages anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers at 901-528-CASH.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Tennessee are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. While Tennessee does include sexual orientation as a protected characteristic in its hate crimes law, it does not expressly include gender identity. Nationally, despite some marginal gains that support and affirm transgender people, the past few years have been marked by anti-LGBTQ attacks at all levels of government.

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.

In order to work towards this goal and combat stigma against transgender and non-binary people, HRC has collaborated with WarnerMedia on a PSA campaign to lift up their voices and stories. Learn more and watch the first PSA here.

In the pursuit of greater accuracy and respect, HRC offers guidelines for journalists and others who report on transgender people. For more information about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit