More than three years ago, my life changed forever when my mother and two cousins, along with six others, were shot and killed when a white supremacist opened fire during a prayer meeting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C. Despite having worked as a trauma chaplain for most of my professional life, nothing could have prepared me for that heartbreak.
As a black woman, I’ve never had the privilege of being immune to the racism and bigotry that permeate American society. Growing up in the South, I heard horrific accounts of black men, women, and children losing their lives because of the color of their skin. But I never expected to have my own story to tell.
Following the shooting, I devoted my life to speaking out on just how deadly hate can be when it comes armed with a gun. This has not been an easy road, and there are times when I am not completely sure of where this path of activism is leading me. But one thing I know for sure is my duty to use my voice to stop other families from experiencing the pain that I live with every day.
It is because of this undertaking that I was so troubled to hear that Kelly Stough (Stage name: Keanna Mattel), a black trans woman in Detroit, was recently shot and killed by a local pastor. This senseless shooting has already created an irreplaceable hole in Stough's community.
Stough was known for speaking out on the disproportionate violence faced by other black trans women in Detroit, and her anger was justified. Her death marks the 24th case of a trans person being killed this year, and the 18th incident of a trans person killed by gun violence. Almost all of the previous victims were women of color.
These are only the cases we know of and they do not fully capture the whole story of hate-fueled violence against the transgender community. Earlier this year, police reports of trans homicide victims in Jacksonville, Fla., failed to correctly identify their gender and names in reports.
A recent investigation by ProPublica found that in 74 of 85 transgender homicide cases identified across the country over the past few years, police identified victims by names or genders they no longer used in their daily lives. Not only is misgendering victims an act of erasure to the legacy of the person they lived as, but it also creates discrepancies in data that make it difficult to fully understand the scope of violence against the transgender community.
As a woman of faith, I urge my fellow clergy members and faith leaders to join me in standing in solidarity with the transgender community. Christianity tasks us to appeal to people’s hearts and to stand up for the most marginalized in our society. And this is why we cannot afford to remain silent on the hate that permeates American society, and the lax gun laws that help make it fatal. We must remind others that hate has no place in our society.
In the weeks and months after the death of my mother and cousins, I learned how easy access to firearms emboldens hate-filled individuals. In an average year, our country experiences over 10,300 hate crimes involving a firearm ― that’s more than 28 each day. And the FBI has recently announced that there was a 17 percent increase in reported hate crimes in 2017.
By standing with transgender Americans, we send out a message that there is no “other” to fear. In God’s eyes, we are all one and we are all deserving of a life free of hatred and violence. And by speaking out on the intersection of gun laws and hate crimes, we let our lawmakers know that they are past due to disarm hate. We must pass meaningful legislation that will keep firearms out of the hands of those who seek to harm others.
I will continue to pray for my family, for women like Kelly Stough, and for all other marginalized people whose lives were senselessly cut short by hate. But I will also stand up and fight to make gun safety our new normal, to make sure public safety for all communities trumps all other agendas. Because only by taking action can we ensure that momma, my cousins, and victims like Kelly Stough did not live and die in vain.