Who Cares About Islan Nettles?


By Tim Murphy

What happens when a young trans woman is murdered in the street, opposite a police station?

Cox thinks that transphobic violence is simply the most extreme piece of a larger problem. “It’s a symptom of discrimination that trans people face disproportionately in every element of our lives,” she says. “We need justice beyond the violence issue. We need sensitivity training and cultural competence in more schools, universities, pulpits. We need a whole revamping for boys around masculinity and what is and isn’t acceptable behavior. The feminist movement has done such a great job of re-envisioning what is possible for women, but men have been left behind. You should not need to prove your masculinity by beating someone to death.”

Several transgender women I spoke with for this story said they wished they had greater support from gay men. They pointed out bitterly that when Mark Carson, a black gay man, was shot to death last summer in the West Village by a man who’d been making homophobic taunts, 1,500 people turned out for his vigil and rally, whereas a few months later, Nettles’s drew a few hundred, mostly from the transgender community.

“We’re here for more than your entertainment,” Cox says. “We’re great and courageous people who have the audacity to be seen, yet you treat us like we’re a joke. And I say that to my gay brothers with love. Please bring more transgender folks and people of color to your table, and really listen to us. Because we really need the resources you have, and your love and support.”

Perhaps at the frigid January rally demanding justice for Nettles, such deeper bonds between gay men and transgender women were emerging. A primary organizer of the event had been ACT UP, which still comprises primarily gay men. “It’s time for the LGB to give back to the T!” shouted ACT UP’s Terry Roethlein, earning whoops of assent.

Yet it was clear from the speaker lineup — which included the young firebrands Lourdes Ashley Hunter and Daniella Carter from the Trans Women of Color Collective of Greater New York — that transgender women were leading the call that day. It was a far cry from an August vigil for Nettles, which rankled transgender folks because the speakers were almost completely cisgender and more than once referred to Nettles as “he.”