Remembering Brazil Johnson, an LGBTQ+ activist who fought against hate

by Meghan Olson

Brazil Johnson was a passionate LGBTQ+ activist, a beloved daughter and a talented chef. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, was killed in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on June 15, 2022. Her death is at least the [17th] 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 an interview with CBS58 News, the mother of Brazil Johnson, Bernita Gildart, said her daughter was a passionate chef and that the kitchen was like a haven for her. Johnson was also a member of Diverse and Resilient, an organization working to achieve health equity and improve the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ people and communities in Wisconsin. Staff and members of Diverse and Resilient remember her as sweet and kind.

We failed to protect Brazil as we have failed so many other trans woman of color who are murdered every year. It is not enough to say ‘rest in peace’ when this happens and move on with our lives. We need to remember Brazil as a human, as a community member, and as a beacon of living in one’s truth. We need to inspect our own biases about transgender people, specifically Black trans women, and how our biases and prejudices may add to the transphobia that fuels hateful violence. Are we doing enough to make sure the trans women of color in our lives are safe, affirmed, and valued?

Now more than ever, the LGB+ community needs to stand behind and uplift trans people so they can return to the forefront of the very movement that trans women of color started. Cisgender people need to listen to trans folks when they explain how to support trans communities. Cisgender ~allies~ need to be fighting the wave of dangerously transphobic and misinformed conservative rhetoric around the trans experience and the struggles of the trans community.”

Alex Corona, Director of Community Programs at Diverse and Resilient

For years, Brazil Johnson was an activist fighting for LGBTQ+ equality in Wisconsin and her loss is devastating for our community, her family and the lives she touched. At just 28, her life was taken far too soon. We must say her name and honor her legacy by fighting to end this epidemic of violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people in America and around the world.”

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

Currently, Milwaukee police are investigating Brazil Johnson’s death as a homicide that involved a firearm. To share tips, please contact the Milwaukee police at 414-935-7360 or to remain anonymous, contact Crime Stoppers at 414-224-TIPS.

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 three-fourths 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 Wisconsin are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. Wisconsin does not include 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 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.

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 CountMeIn 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.

Can we count you in?

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.