Ashley Burton, Ashia Davis, Koko Da Doll, Cashay Henderson, Destin Howard, Zachee Imanitwitaho, Jasmine “Star” Mack, Tasiyah “Siyah” Woodland, and many more Black transgender women have lost their lives for simply being human, embracing themselves, and their identity.
Trans Day of Remembrance is Nov. 20. The epidemic of violence against transgender, nonbinary, and gender-nonconforming people continues in the United States. Many of those killed are women of color, indicating an intersection of racism, transphobia, and sexism, which contributes to the danger trans people face.
While the reported number of violent deaths among this population has gone down, according to Advocate, slightly since 2021 set a record with 57, there are likely many more deaths that go unreported or inaccurately reported due to deadnaming and misgendering.
Navigating Omitted Minds Overtime (N.O.M.O)
Zaria Newbill, 34, a Black transgender woman created a non-profit organization called Navigating Omitted Minds Overtime, or N.O.M.O. in 2017. The nonprofit focuses on providing support and services to Middle Georgia’s transgender community and is the only Black trans-led nonprofit based in Middle Georgia.
Newbill, a Hawkinsville, GA, native raised in a deeply religious household, first acknowledged her gender identity at age four and endured three suicide attempts before transitioning at 26.
“I said, I’m out. I gathered my things, got in my car, drove down to the Ocmulgee River, put the car in neutral, and was getting ready to let the car drive into the river,” said Newbill. “I was like, there’s no point of me being here.”
Newbill says she felt “omitted” and less than human by society. Those feelings were the catalyst for the creation of the nonprofit.
“I wanted to create a space where I can navigate the minds of transgender individuals, so that way, they’ll be able to get where they need to go over time,” Newbill said.
A Benefit for Education
N.O.M.O. prepares to observe Transgender Day of Remembrance in partnership with The LGBTQ Institute at The National Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta on Nov. 17 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. in the form of a celebratory benefit and fundraiser.
Newbill said the fundraiser aims to not only mourn the lives lost but to celebrate the resilience of Black trans women while sowing a financial seed into their future success.
The goal is to raise $10,000 so the organization can award $1,000 to 10 trans or non-binary individuals with some form of financial support.
“This is just our way of saying we see you, hear you, and want to help in any way we can,” she said. “At times, especially black trans women, we’re looking for conversations and behind in education, so in order to be able to move the conversation in a more positive perspective, instead of it being a somber type of situation and event, we’re doing a celebration of life to celebrate the possibility of those women and non-binary individuals in their lives because we’ve already mourned, now it’s time to celebrate.”
Newbill said Trans Day of Remembrance is a day to look and see how far the transgender community have come and how much more work there’s to be done.
“The life expectancy of a trans woman is only 35 years old, so with our life expectancy only being 35, it’s really unfortunate,” she said. “We have to keep having these conversations about the disparities and the disenfranchisement that we have in our community and also working with people in community, so they understand and know transgender people are not delusional and are very aware of who we are and our identities.”
N.O.M.O. Board member Ebony Curry said Trans Day of Remembrance her presents an opportunity to keep the memory of their fallen brothers and sisters alive.
“It lets the world know that those people were important, and they are loved,” she said. “Raising awareness and highlighting the trans community is important to bring understanding to those who don’t know what our community is about. Unfortunately, there are folks that have a stigmatized image of what a trans person is. Bringing awareness sheds light on who we are and what we represent.”
Tim’m West, executive director of the LGBTQ Institute at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, said the benefit is important especially at a time when individuals in the LGBTQ community, the transgender, and nonbinary communities are the ones that are being targeted by many.
“There’s a lack of understanding of who they are, and the very denial of their existence is a result of trauma,” he said. “Mental health issues have created a space where many people are questioning whether trans people are even human. I think at the core of civil and human rights is the efforts to humanize transgender rights as human rights. I think it’s an appropriate thing for the LGBTQ institute to sort of bring that home and to reaffirm that trans rights are, in fact, human rights.”
While resources and opportunities can be vast for LGBTQ+ people in Atlanta, resources are often limited, and personal safety is a major factor, especially for a community in mourning from the loss of 23-year-old Destin Howard who was murdered December 2022.
“There is a distinct separation from Atlanta and the rest of Georgia,” Newbill said. In Atlanta, there is a metropolis for LGBTQ+ individuals, not all the time, but it is deemed one of the safest spaces in places in the country for LGBTQ individuals, specifically for trans, because there’s a lot of resources, treatments, and care here for them.”
However, she said, when you look at the remainder of Georgia on a political standpoint, Atlanta is democratic whereas other parts of state are republican dominated. Newbill said a non-discrimination ordinance was introduced in 2019 and overwhelmingly approved by commissioners, however due to religious reasons, the ordinance was vetoed by Mayor Robert Reichert in 2020.
This allowed businesses to be able to discriminate and decline to serve LGBTQ+ individuals. With this, Newbill said the climate in Atlanta is more accepting, but the further you venture out, services are difficult to come by.
With the hard work Newbill does in Macon, she said it hasn’t been easy.
“I’ve gotten a lot of pushbacks because people are comfortable and when you’re a person who’s making people feel uncomfortable, there’s going to be some resistance, but that’s okay, because only in resistance is when things start to change,” she said. “I’m trying to create change to create safe spaces for trans and non-binary individuals such as myself, because I did have that when I was growing that and making.”
Additionally, West said, the LGBTQ institute’s work is statewide, but they can’t rely on others who have more resources to be a “marker” of how the LGBTQ+ community is doing. He also said the institute wants to expand to other places in the state like Savannah, Augusta, Columbus, and beyond.
“The institute is really committed to ensuring that we see our work as not just the work that’s happening at this civil rights center in Atlanta,” he said. “The work we do represent civil and human rights for LGBTQ people across the South and we must get out of the mindset of looking at Atlanta as a barometer because people in other spaces don’t have those resources.”
West also said in other parts of Georgia, LGBTQ+ people can’t go to a center and often don’t even have bars or clubs where they can socialize safely.
Words of Wisdom
Newbill said if there are human beings on this planet who will continuously disagree with science and “hold the Bible” to the standard of their lives, violence towards the transgender community and any other community/culture of people won’t stop.
“We come in different shapes, sizes, colors, identities and orientations and we have to be okay with that,” she said. “In order to get to a better space where trans and LGBTQ+ individuals can be seen and affirmed, continue to educate, and open to disagreements, we all have to get to a place of learning and acknowledging that we’re all human at the end of the day, we’re one race, and that’s the human race.”
As for advice to other Black trans women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, Newbill said to always continue to better yourself.
“Wherever you start in life or if you find yourself having some form of a hardship, don’t let that be your destination. Always continue to better yourself even if you must do it alone because when I graduated college, transgender women represented less than 1% of college graduates and they’re also being enrolled in college,” she said. “Even if it looks hard, it’s okay to remember you are never alone because you have the strength of those individuals that did the work before you. So, while it may seem hard, just remember you stand on the shoulders of giants and that it’s okay to cry. It is okay not to be okay and it is okay to ask for help if you do need it because it can get hit hard.”
Furthermore, Newbill said there are groups of people fighting day in and day out for each and everyone in the transgender and nonbinary communities.
“Remain humble and do your part, which is making sure you’re educated about who you are and you’re secure in who you are. So, when someone does come in with a different narrative, you’re able to do it in a place of learning their place of humility and courage,” she said.