HRC Mourns Natalia Smut, a Black and Puerto Rican Transgender woman, Killed in Milpitas, California

HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Natalia Smut, a 24-year-old Black and Puerto Rican transgender woman, who was killed in Milpitas, California, on April 23, 2021. Natalia’s death is at least the 17th 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.

Natalia was a celebrated drag artist in the San Jose LGBTQ community with local community members describing her as a “motivating and creative spirit" with "captivating performances" and a "love for advocacy within the community.” Friends and community members organized a vigil for Natalia at San Jose City Hall, with more than 100 people attending.

This past weekend, we’ve received multiple reports of fatal violence against transgender people. This violence is unacceptable, and we must do everything in our power to stop it. According to reports, Natalia was killed by someone she was dating. She did not deserve to have her life cut short by someone she should have been able to trust. We need everyone to speak up and push back against the atrocious amount of stigma and violence faced by transgender people, particularly Black and Brown trans women.”

Tori Cooper, HRC’s 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.

According to local reports, the Milpitas Police Department has identified and arrested a suspect in Natalia’s death. Family members confirmed that Natalia and the suspect were dating, and the police have described the case as a “domestic violence homicide investigation.”

Tragically, interpersonal violence accounts for a significant number of fatalities against transgender and gender non-conforming people. In 2020, approximately seven in ten transgender and gender non-conforming people killed as a result of fatal violence were killed by an acquaintance, friend, family member or intimate partner. Unfortunately, the relationship of the victim to the killer is still unknown for close to one-third (30%) of all known cases. This means that anywhere from 44% to 74% of victims since 2013 were violently killed by someone they knew, including intimate partners, family members, friends, peers and acquaintances.

Additionally, according to the 2015 United States Transgender Survey, 54% of transgender and non-binary people have experienced some form of intimate partner violence in their life. Last year, HRC released a report, titled “LGBTQ Intimate Partner Violence and COVID-19,” that details the increased risk of interpersonal violence faced by LGBTQ people, which is exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in California are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. California also has a hate crimes law that expressly addresses hate or bias crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity. While the past few years have been marked by anti-LGBTQ attacks at many levels of government, recent weeks have seen some gains that support and affirm 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 hrc.org/transgender.

Topics:
Transgender