The ballroom community is mourning the death of a legend this week after news broke that activist Jahaira DeAlto died after being stabbed on Sunday.
"The House of Balenciaga regretfully acknowledges the death/murder of our own Jahaira M. DeAlto, a community advocate and friend to many," Harold Balenciaga wrote to Facebook Sunday night. "Let us not forget her ongoing work against domestic abuse and continue to uplift her name and ensure her memory lives on in this ironic twist of fate." The killing makes DeAlto the 21st reported trans killing this year, putting 2021 on track to be the deadliest on record for trans Americans. She is the seventh trans woman of color to be killed in a month.
Within ballroom, DeAlto was a member of the House of Balenciaga. She made her name in Boston, and became a legend for the category of realness. In her subcategory, fem queen realness, trans women competed to pass for cisgender women. DeAlto's specialty was everyday realness. She started walking in 1996, first walking runway and then in 1999 she began walking realness. After winning her first ball walking realness, she stuck with the category. She also built her own devoted personal family, helping to nurture other members of the community. She wrote about that experience last year on Mother's Day.
"I am the mother who raised the children whose rainbow sparkled too brightly and blinded their birth moms," she wrote to Twitter in a thread. "I cherished what they discarded. I took on earthly assignments for moms who'd earned their Heavenly reward. For their babies who still needed raising. I did that. And I'm still doing that. And I'll keep doing that. Because I will never know what seeing my DNA reflected in another's eyes could look like, but I know what gratitude in the eyes of a young person who finally feels seen looks like. And for me, that's enough."
But she was also a vocal activist outside the scene, having begun that work in 1995.
For years DeAlto operated a YouTube channel vlogging about her life, speaking out on social justice issues, and also talking about inner-community conversations regarding trans women.
"The mission is all about helping you place yourself on a higher priority in your own life, and essentially living the best life that you possibly can, the most authentic life, the life that is true to you," she said in an introductory video to the channel. Her activism work included speaking at various events like Trans Day of Remembrance rallies and more — she was the emcee and featured speaker at the Berkshires' first Transgender Day of Remembrance event in 2017.
“It’s important to be visible,” she told Freedom Massachusetts while she was a student at Berkshire Community College of her work. She's since spoken at the Ryan White Conference on HIV/AIDS, Harvard University, and was a guest lecturer at Columbia University's School of Social Work. “It is still vitally important we leverage our privilege to provide educational opportunities for people to learn more. The more we humanize ourselves for those who don’t think they’ve encountered a transgender person, the more we’re able to remove the stigma and fear surrounding the perception of what trans people are. Education is our greatest weapon against ignorance. After having the experience of meeting Jahaira DeAlto, you can no longer say you’ve never met a trans person.” DeAlto graduated from Berkshire Community College in August 2019 with an Associate's Degree in Human Services.
On Sunday, in Boston a 34-year-old man named Marcus Chavis was arrested and set to be charged with murder in the death of two women. The women were reportedly stabbed. One died on the scene while the other suffered serious injuries, was transported to a hospital, and later died. A dog was also injured. It is believed that one of the women was DeAlto.
This is the latest death within ballroom. Boogie Revlon Makavelli was also killed last month and Vjaun Allure died earlier this year. Jack Mizrahi Gucci, an icon within the community, recently posted about the deaths on Instagram.
"I came to give tribute to the greats we've lost," he wrote of a ball he attended in Chicago, including hashtags for Allure, Makavelli, Jasmine Ferre, Doodie Aphrodite, and Honey Mizrahi. "Rest in Peace, my friends."