Michelle Henry, Black Transgender Woman Whose “Warmth and Presence Were Felt in Every Room She Walked,” Tragically Killed in San Francisco

by Jarred Keller

Michelle Henry, a 25-year-old Black transgender woman, was active in the queer community through her involvement with the San Francisco LBGT Center youth program. She often was referred to as a “ray of light” by the center’s Executive Director Rebecca Rolfe. In an emotional funeral service announcement via Instagram post , Mother Bar—a queer bar based in San Francisco—acknowledged Michelle’s impact on the local LGBTQ+ community saying, “The tapestry of who she was will continue to be woven through our words - written and spoken - for a lifetime.”

Sadly, on May 15, 2024, in San Francisco, California, Michelle was found strangled and stabbed to death by the San Francisco police department (SFPD) after receiving a report there was a physical altercation between two people on the 700 block of Post Street. According to a news release issued by SFPD, police responded at 1:44PM to the report where they found Michelle lying on the ground suffering from multiple stab wounds and despite officers’ attempts to revive her, Michelle was pronounced dead at the scene. Officers detained a female suspect who is awaiting trial.

Michelle was a dynamic Black young transgender woman who still had so much life to live and it breaks my heart to know her life was cut short due to senseless violence. Once again, we are mourning the loss of someone for simply being themselves. Losing your life simply for living your truth is a harsh reality that we too often face as Black trans women. We can end the trend of violence against the trans community.”

Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign Trans Justice Initiative Director

Michelle is at least the 15th transgender or gender-expansive person to lose their life to fatal violence in 2024, and at least the third person to lose their life in May alone. We say “at least '' because, far too often, these deaths are underreported or misreported. Michelle is the second trans or gender-expansive person to be killed in California this year and is at least the 25th trans or gender-expansive person killed in the state since HRC began tracking fatal violence in 2013.

At the state and many municipal levels, transgender and gender-expansive people in California are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. California does include sexual orientation and/or 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. In June 2023, the Human Rights Campaign declared a National State of Emergency for LGBTQ+ Americans, as a result of the more than 550 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced into state houses that year, over 80 of which were signed into law—more than in any other year. As of this writing, almost 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced into state houses since the beginning of 2024, with 33 signed into law.

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-expansive 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.

  • 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.