HRC Mourns Shai Vanderpump, Black Transgender Woman Killed in New Jersey

HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Shai Vanderpump, a 23-year-old Black transgender woman who was killed in Trenton, New Jersey, on July 30. Shai’s death is at least the 32nd 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 Garden State Equality, Shai was “a fierce LGBTQ advocate.” A GoFundMe remembers Shai as being known for her “style [and] love of family,” as someone who had a “heart of gold” and who “loved to dress, smile and see everyone happy and smiling.” Friends and family are also remembering Shai with an outpouring of posts on social media, sharing messages such as “this one hits home” and “I’ll always love you.” One family member shared, “you mean so much to so many people… such a beautiful person.”

The loss of Shai Vanderpump is devastating. Shai was a well-known LGBTQ advocate in New Jersey, and her loss will be felt by her friends, family and local community, as well as the wider LGBTQ community. Her life should never have been taken. Too many transgender and gender non-conforming lives have already been lost. We need everyone, in every state, city and community, to help bring an end to this senseless violence and stigma that so often impacts Black trans women.”

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.

According to local news reports, a suspect has been arrested and charged with murder. Detectives from the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office are investigating any potential bias motivations. Anyone with information can contact Detective Dave Petelle at 609-989-6406 or via email at mchtftips@mercercounty.org.

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.

In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Shai was misgendered and misnamed in some media 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 New Jersey are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. New Jersey does include sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics 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.

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

Topics:
Transgender