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Dallas Denny (she/her)

When I moved to Atlanta in 1989, I soon realized a mass murderer was preying upon trans women of color. Every month or two, another body would be found along a highway with multiple bullet wounds or stabbings. Atlanta’s LGB (no T then!) magazines and newspapers would dutifully report them, but no one was putting two and two together—this in a city still reeling from the kidnapping and murders of as many as 29 children, teens, and adults with African ancestry.

As the director of a nonprofit clearinghouse centering on what was then called transsexualism, I soon found myself speaking about new murders on the local television channels. Every time a body was found, I would be in front of a camera. I repeatedly challenged the police on the evening news to acknowledge that a serial killer was active. They never did.

While trans women of color were at greatest risk, no one was safe, not in Atlanta, not anywhere. A white trans woman nicknamed Big Rhonda, a fixture in Atlanta, was murdered in plain sight in her home state of Alabama by a man who said to police, “I always wanted to kill a queer.” Local authorities had no response to that; he wasn’t arrested. In fact, in most locations in the United States, police were far more likely to perpetrate violence upon us than to protect us.

When Gwendolyn Ann Smith launched the Remembering Our Dead website, I sent her the names of the Atlanta dead I had identified and she incorporated them into her original list. ROD directly led to the Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999.  

TDoR focuses on the deaths of trans people, the majority of whom were people of color, and has been roundly criticized by C. Riley Snorton and others for its martyrization of dead people of color and lack of intersectionality. Perhaps it’s time—in fact, I’m sure it’s time—to focus on hope. I congratulate FORGE for providing that focus.

While we as a community certainly have a long way to go, things are immeasurably better for us. While sometimes we seem to take two steps back for every three steps forward, we have legal protections not available to us in 1989, and certainly many, many more cisgender supporters. In many locations, the police no longer minimalize or ignore our murders. I have hope that things will continue to improve. I expect setbacks, and certainly the specter of a repetition of what happened to the LGBT people in the progressive Weimar Republic after the rise of the National Socialist party in Germany in the 1930s looms in this country, but I believe that now that we have found one another and now have a voice, we will certainly, if eventually, prevail. 

For many years, and still, for many of us, our primary narrative has been one of unhappiness and misery. Certainly, those of us who are dysphoric experience those emotions, and certainly, having come of age at a time when I had zero information and no contact with others like me while trying to figure out what to do about my identity, I have experienced unhappiness and misery, but I have found my personal journey and my own life to be overwhelmingly positive. For me, being trans has been a learning experience and an opportunity to grow, both through figuring myself out and by working to provide others like me with the information and support they need to figure themselves out. I am and have always been a happy person who wakes up wondering what adventures the day might bring. I’m happy that I’m trans, and if I had it all to do over again, I would prefer to be trans again. My identity has brought me far more joy than pain, and I only wish that were true for everyone.