By Zoyer Zachary Zyndel
More and more people are finding out about the tragic murder of a transgender woman in Fresno, near the Blackstone and Shields area. A community is outraged not only by the horrific nature that the victim was stabbed in the neck, but also because so many passerbys saw the victim on the floor after she was stabbed in the neck and did absolutely nothing. The senseless murder was caught on tape and even was played on the news in hopes someone who knows something will come forward to police. Since the crime, which occurred during the early hours of Thursday, July 23, the transgender community has expressed their outrage and concern at a vigil that was held on the evening of Thursday, July 23.
There have also been reports of some debate within the Fresno police department regarding the case. Some say the victim was a man, while others, in agreement with the transgender community, maintain the victim was a transgender woman. The fact that the victim was wearing a dress with a cardigan over it supports this claim. Some allege the murder was a hate crime, and that the victim – known as KC Haggard – was targeted because she is a transgender woman, while others believe it could have been the result of a personal dispute. After viewing the tape, it is difficult to see the crime as anything other than pre-meditated and the cold and calculated crime that it was. It was more or less a drive by, only with a knife, not a gun. A passenger from the car called her over to it and stabbed her in the neck. It is important to note that the perpetrators did not take the victim’s purse or any other items that belonged to her. The motive was not robbery.
Some allege the victim was a prostitute, but thus far no evidence of that nature has surfaced. Personally, I feel that has no bearing on the case; prostitute or not, she simply did not deserve to die the way that she did. I find it interesting that this is one of the first speculations on the table for consideration regarding the victim in this case. Perhaps there are some who believe that if she were a prostitute less compassion would be warranted because somehow the victim deserved the act of horrific violence she suffered. Since the crime, the transgender community has begun to mobilize. One event has already been held and there are plans to hold at least two more in the near future to bring more awareness to violence against transgender people. It is refreshing to see so many transgender and ally activists willing to be visible and demand justice for the victim in this case. It is this level of community involvement that will help ensure that the perpetrators who committed this heinous murder are held accountable and do not evade justice.
This is the first murder of a transgender person in a while that has been publicized greatly in Fresno. At the vigil I saw at least 3 news stations present and willing to cover the event. As a community organizer and activist in the transgender community for 10 years, I hope the attention given to this tragedy encourages more transgender individuals to report when they have been a victim of a violent crime. It’s important for those who read statistics to know that the percentage reported only represents those transgender individuals who have actually reported the violence they have endured. So many others have suffered a tremendous amount of violence and have not reported it. If there is a bright side to all this, it would be that the media and local police are actively responding to this tragedy. I remember just 7 years ago the experiences and issues faced by the transgender community weren’t even mentioned or considered by the mainstream population and gay, lesbian, and bisexual communities. The level of acceptance I see now in my local community is surreal and a sign of progress, though there is so much more work to be done.
I have been asked several times if I think the public coming out of Caitlyn Jenner has had a positive impact on the transgender movement of today. My answer is yes, along with many other factors that are just as important and cannot be ignored. Janet Mock and Laverne Cox have eloquently and publicly articulated the issues faced by transgender women of color. It is important that individuals who are transgender and of color make their voice known, especially for the younger generations who fall into that category. For many of us trans* individuals of color, we had no role model growing up or anyone to relate to in the media and our local community.
It is my wish that the youth of this generation experience less of this kind of repression and have as many opportunities to thrive in life as cisgender (non-transgender) youth their age. When youth see people in society like themselves – and are thus represented – they are more likely to see themselves as belonging to their community and are more likely to give back to it. Too often do I see transgender individuals on the margins of society; some engage in sex work to survive or succumb to drug addictions, while others become victims of abusive relationships and violence. These outcomes are the effects of oppression, and should not be seen as proof of the transgender community being “less than.” It is imperative that our community own its responsibility to recognize the effects transphobia (irrational fear of transgender people) has had on people like KC. Would she have died if our community were more educated about the transgender members of our society? This question may be uncomfortable to hear but must be asked if we are to prevent another murder like KC’s.
Not only are the words and visibility of Jenner, Mock, and Cox responsible for some progression in our movement, but some credit must be given to every trans* person brave enough to come out. Every time a trans* person comes out there is potential for more education about our struggle and humanity. The act of various trans* folk coming out also provides representation for the different kinds of transgender people there are and the reality that our community is as diverse as any other. This diversity should also be depicted in popular media. I anticipate as we progress in our movement there will be more diversity seen on the big screen, in addition to giving public credit to just how long transpeople have been working towards inclusion. Since before the days of the Stonewall, transpeople have been visible and earnest in their fight for full equality. My hope is that their early efforts are never forgotten and give inspiration to our current movement, as we progress more toward mainstream representation.
I remember the words of a mentor of mine: the best way a person can represent themselves and the transgender community, whether trans* or not, is to simply be themselves. No more, no less. Essentially “transgender” is about living authentically, and being yourself. For those looking to become allies, visible support is crucial, but for now, hopefully reading this article marks a good first step.
Zoyer Zachary Zyndel works with Trans-E-Motion, an organization that educates the community on trans issues. For more information call (559)436-0916