HRC Mourns Death of Activist and DJ Liara Tsai, Joins in Solidarity with Minnesota Advocates in Celebrating Her Life

by Laurel Powell

On Saturday, June 22nd, Liara Tsai - a 35-year-old white transgender woman - was found dead in a vehicle after a car crash on I-90 in Iowa. Liara’s death is at least the 18th violent killing of a transgender or gender expansive person in 2024. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported. The Human Rights Campaign is deeply saddened to report on Liara’s passing.

In a statement, OutFront MN - Minnesota’s largest LGBTQ+ advocacy organization - said “Liara was a DJ and producer, had served as a crisis counselor, and was a beloved member of the trans community here in Minnesota. We mourn her loss and urge a full investigation [into] her death. We extend our deepest sympathies to those closest to her; and to all who found connection through her music. We hope that Liara will be remembered for the music she created and the joy she brought to community spaces.”

Liara’s killing leaves a void in her community that will never be filled. Her activism and work as an artist and DJ touched many, and our hearts are with those who called her a friend or chosen family. Far too many transgender people have been taken from those who love them through acts of violence, and we must all work together to build communities where all trans and non-binary people are allowed to thrive.

Tori Cooper, Director of Community Engagement for HRC's Transgender Justice Initiative

On June 24th, a small gathering was held in her remembrance in Loring Park, a Minneapolis neighborhood. Liara had moved to Minneapolis from Iowa City just six weeks before her death, in order to pursue her DJ career, and live somewhere with a large trans community. Speaking with KARE 11, friends from both cities described her as “the most fearless person I've ever met,” with “an incredibly powerful energy,” who was “profoundly curious about everybody else.” They also described her deep love for music and DJing, noting that, right before her death, she had booked a show in Brooklyn which would have been her largest gig ever. Said one long term friend, "She'd been working so hard at her music for so long, and she was finally starting to get the traction she'd been searching for and the community she'd been searching for, for so long."

Though Liara’s body was found in a crashed car, evidence gathered from both the scene of the crash, and her apartment, made “apparent“ to authorities that her death “was not a result of the traffic crash.” At the time of writing, one individual, the driver of the car in which Liara was found, was charged with second-degree murder; according to Liara’s ex-spouse, the driver and Liara were former romantic partners, who had a "sordid and emotionally challenging relationship." Tragically, intimate partner violence accounts for a significant number of fatalities against transgender and gender expansive people, and against transgender women in particular. Since 2013 when HRC began tracking fatal violence incidents, 55 trans or gender-expansive people have been killed by a current or former romantic partner, representing almost a quarter of all victims with a known killer; 47 these victims–almost 90%--were transgender women. In 2024 alone, a third of all victims with a known killer were killed by an intimate partner.

At the state level, transgender and gender-expansive people in Minnesota are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. Minnesota includes both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics 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. In June 2023, the Human Rights Campaign declared a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans, as a result of the more than 550 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced into state houses that year, over 80 of which were signed into law—more than in any other year. One year later, 2024 saw the introduction of more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills in state houses across the country, with 39 bills across 15 states signed into law.

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 CountMeIn 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.