Community members and chosen family members gathered May 1 at Taskforce Community and Prevention Services in Chicago to remember murdered transgender woman Paige Clay and to create a community forum on violence against transgender women, particularly those of color.
Clay, 23, was found shot in the head in the early morning hours of April 12, in an alley on the 4500 block of West Jackson Boulevard in the West Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago. Clay’s chosen family members feel like the case is being ignored by Chicago Police, who were invited to the forum to answer questions regarding the case but did not attend.
“It saddens me that Paige was brutally murdered and no one cares,” said Chayntell Jones, an outreach worker at Taskforce Community and Prevention Services, an HIV prevention and education agency serving the Westside.
Employees of Taskforce Community and Prevention Services opened the event by welcoming attendees. Many people associated with the organization knew Clay because she attended a weekly transgender women’s group at the agency.
“If life is about pursuit of happiness, what opportunities do transgender people have to actualize?” said Wanda Oziera, agency coordinator at Taskforce Community and Prevention Services. “We are coming together as a community and making today an event that creates change, a catalyst for change.”
In solidarity with the gathering for Clay, the National Center For Transgender Equality cancelled a reception scheduled for the same time at the Center on Halsted, with Executive Director Mara Keisling instead speaking at the forum.
“It’s been a really tough month for transgender people around the country. We know of four murders across the country this spring,” said Keisling. “We’re really trying to prop up Paige and draw attention to this tragedy. We need to figure out how to stop it.”
Aides at the White House reached out to NCTE about these murders, Keisling said.
“Everyone from all over the country is hearing about Paige and Paige’s life from the great work here,” Keisling said. “Just know that NCTE really wants to help in anyway we can. … Please contact us for anything at all.”
Attendees took a moment of silence to reflect on Clay’s life, which lead to individuals sharing memories of Clay and what she meant to them and the community.
“[Paige] always just had such a presence. She always just had such a way about her,” said one attendee who wished not to be named. “We need to work together. We need to respect each other. We are all in this together.”
Brian Turner, an outreach coordinator at Taskforce Community and Prevention Services, describes Clay as an adopted member of his family, as his aunt was a foster mother to Clay. He knew Clay since 2004 when she was doing runway in balls, underground competitions in which different houses battle for prizes and trophies with a fusion of cat walking, dancing, voguing and drag. The ball houses, composed primarily of black men who have sex with men and transgender women, are similar to families or fraternities, each one cheering on their members as they compete.
“She wasn’t a person out on the street. She was trying to do something with her life. She wasn’t a nobody,” said Turner. “I didn’t want her life to go unnoticed. I’m crying because people came out to show support.”
The gathering then turned to a forum for discussing violence against transgender women, particularly in the way gender identity intersects with race.
In 2010, 44 percent of LGBT murder victims were transgender women, and 70 percent of LGBT murder victims were people of color, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Transgender people as a whole are only about 1 percent of the population. Among the transgender murder victims, 42 percent of them were engaged in sex work at the time of their murder.
“It’s getting to the point where when I hear about a trans woman getting killed it just seems natural,” said Liz, who declined to provide a last name.
“Being transgender should not be a death sentence,” said said Precious Davis, youth outreach coordinator at the Center on Halsted. “We’ve seen enough as a community. It’s time to start making demands.”
The discussion turned to racism and transphobia within the LGBT community, particularly in Boystown. Several speakers pointed out the Take Back Boystown movement, spearheaded by mostly white gay men in Lakeview who attributed a rise in crime to mostly young black youth hanging out in the streets and at the Center on Halsted, and the Tumblr blog When in Boystown, which disparages black transgender women, among other groups.
“We just need to stop being close-minded to things. It starts in our community, it starts with us,” said Turner.
Many people also drew attention to the issue of LGBT youth homelessness, particularly for transgender women of color. There are nearly 2,000 homeless youths in Cook County, of which 20-40 percent self-identify as LGBT, according to an University of Illinois at Chicago survey. Chicago currently has approximately 200 shelter beds designated for homeless youth, and approximately 20 of them are specifically designated for homeless transgender youth. Nineteen percent of transgender or gender nonconforming people generally have experienced homelessness, and that number shoots up to 41 percent among black transgender or gender nonconforming people, according to an NCTE survey.
But many people were excited by the sizeable turnout, approximately 75 people, and expressed sentiments of hope and change for the future.
“It’s amazing that we all came together, but it’s sad that it has to be on an occasion such as this,” said Davis.
“I hope you’re inspired. I hope you’re inspired to leave here with a plan. Change won’t happen if we sit on our hands and wait for someone else to do it,” said Oziera.
A funeral service for Clay was held May 4 at Acklin Funeral Home.
For more on the services offered by Taskforce Community and Prevention Services, including HIV testing, case management, outreach programs, mental health support and hormone therapy, call (773) 473-4100 or visit the office at 9 N. Cicero Ave. To contact NCTE, visit the organization’s website.