by Violet Lhant •
HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Unique Banks, a 21-year-old Latina transgender woman who was fatally shot in Chicago, Illinois on January 23, 2023. Unique was killed in a mass shooting that also took the life of her mother, Alexsandra Olmo. Alexsandra’s boyfriend and two other transgender women survived the attack but were hospitalized in critical condition.
Unique’s death is at least the third 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. At time of writing, the Gun Violence Archive has recorded 40 mass shootings in America since the beginning of 2023, including the shooting that took Unique’s life—the highest number of mass shootings at this point in a year since the Gun Violence Archive was established in 2013. The archive defines a mass shooting as a one in which at least four people are shot, excluding the shooter. There were over 600 mass shootings in 2022.
Unique’s father Omar Burgos said that his “heart is torn apart” and that he had hoped for her to live with him in Florida.
Unique’s brother also remembered her on social media, writing, “I miss you so much pookiana. I need everybody to know I ain’t doing this so y’all know who passed I’m doing this because this is my best friend... it’s hurts that’s your not here and I can’t hear your voice but you will forever be in my heart and by my side pookkie I love you bae forever UNTIL I SEE YOU AGAIN.”
He also remembered their mother, writing, “What Can I Really say About my Wonder Woman, Well what I can say is Your strong and I know that for a fact,you held it down even at our littlest moments...My proud lioness Mama I’ll never Never and I mean Ever Stop thinking about you... FOREVERR YALL WORLD WE JUST LIVING IN ITTT FOREVER YALL WORLD JUST WAITING TO SEE YALL AGAIN I WOULD DO THIS W YALL AGAIN TILL THE END”
Unique is at least the 13th transgender or gender non-conforming person killed in Chicago since HRC began tracking in 2013—more than any other city in the country. Equality Illinois released a statement on the shooting, writing, “We call on the Mayor to take immediate action and ensure resources are allocated to support the victims and their families and to find answers to these heinous acts of violence. The time is now to end systemic racism and transphobia so that we may pursue dignity for those who are no longer with us and for those whose lives hang in the balance.”
According to our partners at Everytown for Gun Safety:
“Lawmakers must act to require background checks on all gun sales, support Extreme Risk laws that provide a process to temporarily remove guns from people showing warning signs, keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and restrict assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.”
More than 25,000 hate crimes in the U.S. involve a firearm each year, which equates to almost 70 cases, 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. HRC’s own tracking of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people found that between 2013 and 2022, more than two-thirds of all recorded fatalities against transgender and gender non-conforming people involved a firearm – including over three -quarters of all reported fatalities in 2022.
In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Unique was misgendered in some media and police reports. Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment by some in the media, law enforcement and elected offices. According to HRC research, it is estimated that approximately three-quarters of all known victims were misgendered by the media and/or by law enforcement. In the pursuit of greater accuracy and respect, HRC offers guidelines for journalists and others who report on transgender people. HRC, Media Matters and the Trans Journalists Association have also partnered on an FAQ for reporters writing about anti-trans violence.
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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