HRC Remembers Meghan Riley Lewis, Transgender Woman Who Devoted Her Life to Feeding Hungry and Unhoused Queer People

by Kathryn Smith

On December 27, 2023, Meghan Riley Lewis, a 57-year-old transgender woman well known in her community for her activism for transgender rights, was killed in Bel Air, Maryland. Lewis’ death is at least the 31st violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2023. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported.

Lewis was shot by a food delivery person following a verbal altercation that turned physical. The shooter waited nearby for law enforcement and surrendered himself upon their arrival. Despite attempts to save Lewis by emergency responders, she ultimately passed away after being taken to the hospital.

Lewis was well-known in her community for transgender activism — she founded a patient support group for trans individuals coming to Baltimore for life-saving surgery, and “she was devoting her life to feeding hungry and unhoused queer people,” wrote activist Erin Reed in a tribute online. Friends also remember her by her catchphrase “stay sparkly.” Lewis is survived by her two children.

The death of any transgender person is heartbreaking for our community, and the loss of Megan will undoubtedly leave a hole in the hearts of so many people who benefited from her work. Our hearts go out to Lewis’ loved ones as they grapple with this immeasurable loss."

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

Megan is at least the 21st transgender woman lost to fatal violence in 2023, and the 24th trans or gender non-conforming person killed with a gun; over three-quarters of all incidents of fatal violence against the trans community in 2023 involved a gun.

More than 25,000 hate crimes in the U.S. involve a firearm each year, which equates to almost 70 cases per day, according to a 2022 report from Everytown for Gun Safety in partnership with HRC and The Equality Federation Support Fund, “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. In 2022, the most recent year for which data is available, the FBI recorded a record-high number of hate crimes related to gender identity, including a 33% jump in hate crimes on the basis of gender identity from the year before.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Maryland are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. Maryland does include sexual orientation and gender identity as a protected characteristic in its hate crimes law. Though we have recently seen some political gains that support and affirm transgender people, we have also faced unprecedented anti-LGBTQ+ attacks in the states.

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.

More resources:

  • Learn more about the fatal violence cases that HRC is tracking where details are unclear. You may find a list of these cases here.

  • Watch this PSA campaign elevating stories of trans joy and love.

  • Join HRC's Count Me In campaign to take action for transgender and non-binary people.

  • Read these guidelines and this FAQ for journalists to ensure greater accuracy and respect in reporting.

  • Learn about how transgender and non-binary people are combating transphobia, stigma and anti-trans violence through our Celebrating Changemakers series.