The Human Rights Campaign is mourning the death of Felycya Harris, a transgender woman who was shot and killed in Meadowbrook Park in Augusta, Georgia. Feylcya’s death follows the death of Michelle Michellyn Ramos Vargas, a transgender woman in Puerto Rico, who was killed with a gun just four days earlier. Felycya’s death is the fourth violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in just three weeks and is believed to be at least the 31st 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 by failing to identify the victim as trans or by misgendering and misnaming the victim. The number of transgender or gender non-conforming people whom HRC has tracked as being killed so far this year has now matched 2017’s count as the highest number of violent deaths HRC has ever tracked in one year.
Felycya’s death cuts short a life full of promise. Felycya, 33, was an interior decorator and ran her own company where she enjoyed lending her eye to improve the surroundings of others, and made others feel comfortable in their own space. She said she could do “just about anything with decorating,” which she learned from her late grandmother. Friends remember her “laugh. The smile -- the smiles. The talks. The arguments. The attitudes. Everybody is going to remember who Felycya Harris is.” Based on her social media posts, she enjoyed dance, fashion and style, had a bright sense of humor and was full of life.
“With news of the death of Felycya Harris, we have hit a grim milestone: We have now matched the highest number of transgender or gender non-conforming people who were victims of fatal violence in one year -- and there are three more months left in the year,” said HRC President Alphonso David. “This epidemic of violence, which is particularly impacting transgender women of color, must and can be stopped. We must work to address the factors that underpin this culture of violence and openly discuss how the intersection of racism, sexism, homophobia, biphobia and transphobia work to deprive transgender and gender non-conforming people of equal access to opportunity and necessities like employment, housing and health care.”
We mourn the individuals we have lost this year while remembering them for who they were: our partners, family members, friends and community members. Not one of the 31 individuals we have lost this year, or the 196 people we have lost since 2013, deserved to have their lives or their futures taken from them.”
In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Felycya has been misnamed in some media reports following her death. 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 or by law enforcement. In the pursuit of greater accuracy and respect, HRC offers guidelines for journalists and others who report on transgender people.
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.
If we are to expect any change to this tragic trend, we must demand more from our elected leaders and those entrusted to protect us. While Georgia passed hate crimes legislation in June 2020, the law does not explicitly cover gender identity. Moreover, Georgia lacks inclusive state non-discrimination protections in employment, housing and public spaces.
We must honor Felycya’s memory by first bringing to justice those responsible for her death. And, we must work to stem the tide of violence against members of the LGBTQ community, especially transgender and gender non-conforming individuals, and consider every possible way to make ending the violence a reality. We must all work to cultivate acceptance, reject hate and end stigma. We cannot achieve full equality if members of the trans community live with the fear that to live their best life, they must risk losing their life.
In order to combat stigma against the transgender and gender non-conforming community, HRC has collaborated with WarnerMedia on a PSA campaign to lift up their voices and stories.. Watch the PSA here.
For more information about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit hrc.org/transgender.