Starr Brown, Black Transgender Woman Who “Always Had Uplifting Words”, Killed in Memphis, Tennessee

by Shoshana K. Goldberg

Starr Brown, a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in Memphis, Tennessee on April 19th. Starr is at least the 11th transgender or gender expansive person killed in 2024, and at least the fourth killed in the month of April alone. We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported. The Human Rights Campaign is deeply saddened to report on Starr’s passing.

Some family and friends referred to Starr with what is presumably her birth name; her obituary also lists both names. However, as Starr Brown is the name used in her socials, and appears to be the name she used most in life, this is how we will refer to her throughout this blog.

As reported by Fox13 Memphis News--in an article which misgenders Starr and uses her birth name—a coworker, Alexavier Williamson, has confessed to the shooting, and has been arrested and charged with her murder. His arrest comes two weeks after her killing, which was initially reported by the Memphis Police Department and in press coverage.

Early coverage did not confirm Starr as the victim in this incident. However, soon after her death, Starr’s loved ones, friends, and family began sharing the story on social media alongside posts memorializing Starr, expressing grief for her passing. Across posts, the love her community felt for her was clear, with loved ones describing her as someone who was “TRULY loved,” “always had uplifting words,” “one of the sweetest,” and a “beautiful soul.” A balloon release was held in her honor at the site of her passing on Friday April 26th, and a memorial service was held on May 4th.

Jasmine Tasaki, the founder of WeCareTennessee, a Tennessee based nonprofit that “supports Transwomen of color through education and empowerment with the goal that they have the same equity and quality of life as envisioned” expressed her grief over Starr’s passing, noting to HRC that:

It saddens me that we are living in a time where black transwomen are murdered with no outrage. Our community continues to suffer, yet we find ways to go on. It is with deep hurt that I say Starr Brown’s name. She is now with the ancestors and can rest. It’s our duty to push harder for liberation for our people; we can only save ourselves."

Jasmine Tasaki, Founder of WeCareTennessee

Starr is at least the second Black transgender woman killed in 2024, and the seventh transgender or gender-expansive person killed with a gun, with firearms accounting for two-thirds of all deaths identified to date in 2024. She is the seventh transgender or gender-expansive Tennessean killed since HRC began tracking fatal violence in 2013, and the sixth Tennessean to be killed with a firearm. News reports have also noted that this is not even the first time that Starr had been shot; in October 2023, she was shot during an attempted robbery while waiting for an Uber. Tennessee itself is experiencing a crisis of gun violence: as reported by Everytown for Gun Safety, gun related homicides have increased in the state by 110% over the last decade, with Black Tennesseans experiencing the highest rate of firearm deaths of any racial/ethnic group.

In an injustice compounding this tragedy, Starr was misgendered in some media and police reports, an occurrence that is far too common: In the last 11 years that HRC has been tracking fatal violence against the transgender and gender-expansive community, approximately two-thirds of all known victims were misgendered by the media and/or by law enforcement. Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment by some in the media, law enforcement and elected offices. 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.

At the state level, transgender and gender-expansive people in Tennessee are not explicitly protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. Tennessee also does not include either sexual orientation 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, over 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced into state houses since the beginning of 2024, with more than 25 bills passing to-date.

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.
  • 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.
  • Learn about how transgender and non-binary people are combating transphobia, stigma and anti-trans violence through our Celebrating Changemakers series.