HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Chae’Meshia Simms, a Black transgender woman who was shot to death early in the morning on Nov. 23 in Richmond, Virginia. Simms was in her 30s. Her death is believed to be at least the 39th 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. In fact, HRC was also recently made aware of the death of Skylar Heath, a 20-year-old Black transgender woman in Miami, Florida. There have been no reports by the media or law enforcement and HRC is continuing to investigate. Based on information from her friends, she was believed to have been shot — potentially bringing the number of violent deaths to 40.
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 are mourning Chae’Meshia along with her friends and family. Although I did not know Chae’Meshia personally, she was from my hometown, and her death impacts the trans and gender non-conforming community everywhere,” said HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative Tori Cooper. “We are continuing to see a devastating rate of violence against trans and gender non-conforming people in the United States, especially against Black and Brown trans women, and it must be stopped. It takes all of us to speak up and take action to end this violence.”
Simms, who sometimes used the nickname “ChaeChae,” was close with her family and friends, and often posted photos of and with them on Facebook. Her loved ones are remembering her on social media as “good,” “kind” and “caring.” One friend remembered her as “one of my biggest supporters.” Many have expressed how much they will miss her.
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. Three-fourths of homicides against transgender people have involved a gun, and nearly eight in 10 homicides of Black trans women involve a gun. Further, advocates saw a 43% increase in the formation of anti-LGBTQ hate groups in 2019.
Richmond Police are currently investigating Simms’ death. Anyone with information is asked to call Major Crimes Detective M. Godwin at (804) 646-5533 or Crime Stoppers at (804) 780-1000.
At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Virginia are protected from discrimination in education, housing, employment and public spaces. Virginia explicitly includes both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics in its hate crimes law. Earlier this year, Virginia passed the Virginia Values Act, which went into effect on July 1. The Virginia Values Act extended existing state non-discrimination protections in public employment, housing and credit to Virginians on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and several other characteristics, and added all-new statewide protections from discrimination in employment and places of public accommodations to a large range of protected characteristics. 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 hrc.org/transgender.