Honoring Jo Acker, Trans Woman Who Confronted Shooter

by Jose Soto

HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jo Acker, a white 26-year-old transgender woman killed in Boise, Idaho, on Oct. 26, 2021. Acker’s death is at least the 42nd violent killing 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 Acker’s Facebook page, She was born in Seattle, Washington, and grew up in both Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Boise. Acker had previously served in the U.S. Army as a forward observer.

Acker was one of the victims of a tragic shooting at Boise Towne Square mall, which also resulted in five people injured. She was working security at the mall at the time of the shooting, according to her friend Dominique Cairistiona. Her family said Acker ran toward the suspect to stop him, likely saving many lives. The other individual who was fatally injured in the shooting was 49-year-old Roberto Padilla Arguelles.

In a statement, the Boise Police Department said the following: “Evidence indicates the suspect was contacted by a security officer on the first floor of the building near a department store on the west side of the building. The suspect shot the security officer who died at the scene.”

Acker’s family told the media that she was “a hero” and “the type of person that always wanted to help people.” They added that she “will be greatly missed.” Another one of Acker’s friends, Shiloh Ren, told the media that Acker will be remembered as “a radiantly sweet person.” In a statement provided to a local news outlet, Acker’s older sister, Tiffany Luna, said “Confronting someone whom she viewed to be a threat to others or a bully was entirely within her character even prior to enlisting.”

Jo Acker had a 3-year-old daughter, Everay, and five sisters as well as a stepbrother. Her family has set up a GoFundMe to help with expenses and to support Everay.

Losing yet another sister in the transgender community to such violent means is disheartening, and yet infuriating. The senseless violence against our community is alarming, but what is also alarming is the lack of comprehensive gun control legislation that puts all communities in immediate danger. If we are to draw attention to the frightening rate of anti-trans fatal violence, we also need to draw attention to the dire need for gun control laws in this country that will ultimately not only keep our transgender community safer, but all communities safer.”

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

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 Idaho are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. Idaho does not include sexual orientation or gender identity as a protected characteristic in its hate crimes law. While we have recently have seen some gains that support and affirm transgender people, we have also faced anti-LGBTQ attacks at many levels of government this year, with more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country, more than 120 of which directly target transgender people. In May, 2021 set a record as the worst year for anti-LGBTQ legislation in recent history.

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.

HRC has also launched the “Count Me In” campaign to encourage everyone, LGBTQ people and allies, to get loud, get visible and spread awareness on behalf of transgender and non-binary people. The more people who show they care, including allies and trans and non-binary people who speak up for the most marginalized in our community, the more hearts and minds we will change. Learn more and take action at hrc.org/CountMeIn.

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 hrc.org/transgender.