Remembering Matthew Angelo Spampinato, a Transgender Man with “A Smile That Could Turn a Day Around

by Violet Lhant

Matthew Angelo Spampinato, a 21-year-old white transgender man, was a barista at a Starbucks in New Castle, Delaware. Customers and employees described him as bright, kind and “a breath of fresh air.” One coworker said “He was always so selfless. He would always ask how everybody was doing even when he wasn’t having a good day himself.” A regular at the store described him as having “a smile that could turn a day around.”

On Feb. 9, 2022, Spampinato was killed in a hit and run car crash in New Castle. Spampinato’s death is at least the fifth 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 officially recorded the largest number of fatal trans violence incidents for a second consecutive year since we began tracking this violence in 2013.

According to local news, Spampinato had recently moved to Delaware after visiting a friend and falling in love with the area. After his move, he wrote on Instagram that he was “enjoying experiencing fall and winter in a new state for the first time.” He also shared updates on his transition on social media, describing that he waited four years to obtain a prescription for testosterone and writing “I’m glad I didn’t give up.”

Spampinato's cousin described him as “very headstrong…Once he set his mind on something, he went with it…I want people to think of him as a human being who had a family (and) who had people that loved him. I would give anything just to be able to see him.” Spampinato wrote that he realized he was not cisgender at age 13 and although not everyone in his life was supportive, he appreciated those who were.

Matthew’s death is tragic, but the one shining light was that he lived his life surrounded by people who loved and respected him. He was living his dream with a healthy support system. With all of the challenges trans and non-binary people face in society, including a disregard for our lives, it is so important for allies to celebrate and uplift our community. May Matthew never be forgotten by those who loved him and those who hold our community dear.”

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

Police initially identified Spampinato by his birth name, but he was later confirmed as transgender and in the process of legally transitioning when he died. According to state police spokesman Sr. Cpl. Jason Hatchell, “investigators do not have any new leads on the driver that killed him.”

The process to obtain accurate identification can be a long, expensive and arduous process for transgender and gender non-conforming people in the United States. Making this process more affordable and accessible will not only improve the safety of individuals seeking accurate and affirming identification documentation, it will allow officials to accurately identify individuals in dire situations. Accurate identification documentation is not only affirming, it is key to respecting victims of fatal violence in the transgender and gender non-conforming community.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Delaware are explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. Delaware 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 90 of which directly target transgender people.

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.