HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Poe Black, a 21-year-old transgender man who was killed in Niland, California, in an area called Slab City, in early May. Poe was stabbed to death, and his body was found on May 11. According to some reports, he identified as “mixed Indigenous,” and may also have been two-spirit and non-binary. Poe’s death is at least the 28th death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2021. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.
Poe, who also used the names Oliver Jackson and Legion, was originally from Nashville, Tennessee. According to PGH Lesbian, his family held a private vigil in his memory in Tennessee. On Poe’s Facebook, he often posted about disability rights and Black Lives Matter. He was also an artist, with several online stores where he displayed and sold his art. Sadly, at this time, not much else is known about Poe’s life.
“In May alone, we now know of the deaths of at least nine transgender or gender non-conforming people. This violence is staggering, and if it continues, we will record more cases of fatal violence against trans and gender non-conforming people this year than any prior year. As we continue to see unprecedented levels of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people, everyone must speak out in support of trans lives.”
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.
The Imperial County, California Sheriff’s Office has ruled Poe’s death a homicide and is investigating. Anyone with information can contact the Investigations Unit at (442) 265-2052.
In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Poe Black was misgendered and misnamed in some media and police reports. 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 and/or by law enforcement. 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.
At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in California are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and education. California also includes both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics in its hate crimes law. 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 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.
For more information about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit hrc.org/transgender.