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This is for Muhlaysia Booker and those who failed her

24 May 2019

My brain refused to compute the information.

Standing outside of a train station, I shook my head at my smartphone. How unfortunately ironic that there were two girls called Muhlaysia? One kicked and punched, mob style, by a crowd of black men whilst an urban village of people egged them on. The other shot dead by an unidentified assailant merely a month later.

I walked to my therapist’s up the road and I was a couple minutes early. I sat down on the sunny sandstone steps and put two and two together whilst scrolling. It was the same Muhlaysia. Of course. The same girl a month earlier had told a crowd assembled to support her.

“This time I can stand before you, whereas in other scenarios we are at a memorial,” she had told the crowd. This girl, who thought she was one of the lucky ones, is now dead. This girl who loved big ol’ heavy lashes that fluttered with each seductive blink. She enjoyed the feel of the Texan sun on her skin. She loved the wind whipping her face, with her very expensive hair wrapped up nice and tight, as she drove about her business. She has been snatched from us with a gunshot. She was 23.

“She enjoyed the feel of the Texan sun on her skin. She loved the wind whipping her face. She has been snatched from us with a gunshot.”

Abounding Prosperity is a non-profit in the Dallas area with a mission “to provide services that address health, social and economic disparities among Black Americans with a particular emphasis on gay & bisexual men, cisgender women, transgender women, and their families”.

Their CEO, Kirk Myers, had his arm around Muhlaysia on stage a month ago and handed her a check for $4000.

Facebook comments on the Abounding Prosperity page accuse the CEO of making dismissive transphobic comments saying to a trans person they met in public: “He, she or whatever you are.”  In the Dallas Voice on 15 April they stated that their plan of action included: providing Muhlaysia with the necessary legal and community services that she “will require during this adjustment period”, establishing an official GoFundMe site to assist Booker in “securing the basic necessities of food, clothing and shelter” and “meeting with Dallas law enforcement to demand this be investigated as a hate crime”.

As an organisation that made such a clear statement about the need to keep her safe, it is incumbent upon us to ask how is the organisation going to be held to account moving forward. This plan of action couldn’t have been executed efficiently if the intended recipient of its support is now dead. On 22 May, the Dallas Voice reported that Kirk is in communication with Muhlaysia’s mother about her funeral plans and GoFundMe proceeds have been returned to donors. The organisation are said to have been paid for Muhlaysia to stay in a hotel in the month following the assault while a house for trans women was being prepared, as well as clothing, food and legal counsel. gal-dem has reached out to Abounding Prosperity for comment but has yet to receive a response.

When I ask Houston-based Diamond Stylz, of Marsha’s Plate podcast fame, for her take on what’s occurred she says that she has learnt that the non-profit sector does not know how to handle crisis when it comes to the people that they are servicing. “All they know how to do is peddle our narratives in order to get more funding,” she says. “How to use us well within their fundraising strategy… This tokenism and monetisation does not lead to actual policies and procedures that are effective. It leads to capitalistic ventures always looking for the next tragedy to milk for clout and money instead of really being focused on the efficacy of their services to the people they supposedly care about.”

For her, it’s not just a singular organisation that failed Muhlaysia, but ”the culture of the negligent non-profit sector that allows this to persist across the country”.

Other black women have been pouring out their grief across the internet. Bryanna Jenkins, a Civil Rights Attorney in training, posted a picture of Muhlaysia on Instagram and pointed out in her caption that the average life expectancy of a black trans woman is 35 – Muhlaysia was just 23.

“Being black and trans is hard,” she wrote “My heart goes out to Muhlaysia Booker. I know her struggle because she is me. Though I wonder how was she not protected even after the public harm and humiliation that she experienced. This world failed you sis. This is a tough one to take. Rest in Power Sis.”

The inimitable artist and activist Aaryn M. Lang had this to say on her Facebook page: “Black trans women need the resources to champion our own power and protection… I wish I could tell you that I cry at the loss of the girls but that well has long dried up; all I have is fury to offer you now… Black trans women are more than capable of being the interruption to this bullshit we need.”

“I can’t keep a mental handle on the chronology of the slaughtering. I can’t make political sense of my beliefs”

I finally cried last night. After days of numbness, I sat still as the flurry of beautiful girls faces that I am beginning to forget the names of flashed before my mind’s eye. In private messages, I ask my girlfriends “Remind me of the name of so n so?”  and “When did what’s her name die?” I can’t keep a mental handle on the chronology of the slaughtering. I can’t make political sense of my beliefs. How do I get rid of all my pesky visibility when the genocidal intentions of politicians step up yet another notch? Headline after headline after headline. In total, there were three black trans women killed in the USA in one week according to the civil rights organisation Human Rights Campaign: Muhlaysia, Claire Legato and Michelle “Tamika” Washington.

Ida B. Wells is just one of the ancestors who is helping me to keep my head up when writing about so much death. As the title to Damon Young’s new book attests, What Doesn’t Kill You, Makes You Blacker. To be sure, the addition of so many more trancestors to my spiritual world makes an even more emboldened fighter out of me. For both Donna Summer and James Baldwin already forewarned you. No more tears. The fire next time!

The Marsha P. Johnson Institute is launching in 2019, aiming to create an entry point for black trans women and gender non-conforming femmes to obtain the skills and resources necessary in advocating for an end to violence against all trans people. You can donate to the institute here.