HRC Mourns Iris Santos, Latina Trans Woman Killed in Houston

by Jose Soto

HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Iris Santos, a 22-year-old Latina transgender woman killed in Houston, Texas, on April 23, 2021. Iris’ death is at least the 18th violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2021. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.

According to several reports, Iris was shot and killed at approximately 9:30 p.m. on Friday, April 23, at the 8600 block of Westheimer Road. According to reports, Iris was sitting at a picnic table outside of a restaurant when an unknown suspect approached Iris and opened fire. Iris died as a result of the shotgun wounds she sustained. Investigators said the restaurant manager heard the gunshots and alerted the police. Officers found Iris suffering from a gunshot wound and she was taken to a nearby hospital, where she later died.

It is incredibly tragic and disheartening to continue to witness senseless and vicious attacks against our community. Iris was so young with so many things to look forward to. Iris was simply minding her own business, sitting and eating when her life was abruptly cut short. Our transgender community needs federal protection and we need it now. We can’t and mustn’t continue to suffer.”

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

Unfortunately, not much is known of Iris’ personal life. Her family is requesting the community’s help in identifying the person responsible for her death. Anyone with information in this case can contact the HPD Homicide Division at 713-308-3600 or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

HRC recorded 44 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2020, more than in any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013.

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 2017-2019 Transgender Homicide Tracker, three-fourths of confirmed 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.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Texas are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. While Texas does include sexual orientation as a protected characteristic in its hate crimes law, it does not expressly include gender identity. While recent weeks have seen some gains that support and affirm transgender people, we are also currently facing anti-LGBTQ attacks at many levels of government, with more than 260 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country, more than 120 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.

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 PSAs here.

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. For more information about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit