Remembering Ariyanna Mitchell, Black Transgender Girl Who Always Had A Smile

by Violet Lhant

Ariyanna Mitchell, a 17-year-old Black transgender girl, was a junior at East End Academy in Newport News, Virginia and a member of the Triple E (Electra Eagles Elite) Dance Academy. Her family recalled that “She was truly unique, funny, and loved by everyone. There was never a dull moment when Ariyanna was around.”

On April 2, 2022, Mitchell was fatally shot in Hampton, Virginia while protecting her friend during a fight at a party. A suspect questioned her gender identity and shot her multiple times upon receiving a response. Police have arrested the suspect and charged him with Mitchell’s murder.

At the time, Mitchell’s death marked the at least 11th violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2022. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported. In 2021, despite limitations in reporting, HRC recorded the deaths of 57 transgender and gender non-conforming people, the largest number of fatal trans violence incidents recorded in a single year since we began tracking this violence in 2013.

Ariyanna had her whole life ahead of her as a talented dancer, a beloved friend and daughter and whatever dreams she might have chosen to pursue. Instead, she died heroically protecting a friend, taking a bullet so her friend could escape. Her killer had the audacity to question her gender before shooting her, showing the horrific connection between transphobia and misogyny. We must all work to create a society free from the scourge of gun violence.”

Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative

Ariyanna Mitchell a.k.a. Kamari was 17 years old. She led a dance team in the city of Hampton. She was known by her family and friends as the dance machine. Ariyanna Mitchell's death has taken the city of Hampton by storm. She was so young,talented,smart ,beautiful and was very passionate about dancing. Her death bring back sad memories for the transgender community in Virginia we have lost a significant amount of transgender people in the the state of Virginia some are unknown because the authorities fail to identify the transgender community correctly because of this trans related violence goes under the radar. The transgender community in the Virginia area face many barriers from lack of support from family and friends,homelessness, drug addiction and survival sex-work which all these barriers leads to violence against the transgender community. Empowering Transgender Services Inc. is making a stand and coming frontline to say Ariyanna Mitchell name out loud in a peace rally”

Nyonna Byers, HRC ACTIVATE alumni, Empowering Transgender Services Inc.

There are no transgender people who deserve to be your martyrs. It crushes my heart to see this beautiful young woman brutally slain for no apparent reason. A 17-year-old girl was entitled to a good time and a peaceful night's sleep at home, just like any other teen. It's infuriating that her life was treated as if it didn't matter because she was transgender. It's time for Black Trans women's rights to finally be safeguarded. What price will they have to pay for their humanity? An alarmingly high number of transgender women are being slain. A Black trans woman's life expectancy is under 33 years, but protests and indignation are focused on whether or not they should be permitted to participate in sports. Without a doubt, we failed Ariyanna by failing to safeguard her most fundamental human right to life. May she rest in peace.”

Allyn Cropper, HRC ACTIVATE alumni

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 2017-2022 Transgender Homicide Tracker, the vast majority of confirmed homicides against transgender people have involved a gun, with Black transgender women accounting for 73% of all transgender gun homicide victims. . Further, advocates saw a 43% increase in the formation of anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups in 2019.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Virginia are protected from discrimination in education, housing, employment and public spaces. Virginia explicitly includes both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected characteristics in its hate crimes law. Though we have recently seen some political gains that support and affirm transgender people, we have also faced anti-LGBTQ+ attacks at many levels of government this year. As of this writing, more than 270 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are under consideration in state legislatures across the country, more than 110 of which directly target 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.

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