The Out100 has historically been a cherished space to honor the most influential LGBTQ+ people of the year, but each year the chosen figures pale in comparison to my sisters — Black transgender women and trans women of color — who are killed in senseless acts of violence each year. As that “epidemic” gains more traction in public discourse, Black transgender women and trans women of color lose our humanity. Every social media post and sensationalist headline reduces lives to numbers and we are met with inadequate calls for awareness with no action.
Enter the Trans Obituaries Project.
We begin with a cover story honoring Layleen Cubilette-Polanco, a 27-year-old transgender AfroLatina who died from an epileptic seizure while held in solitary confinement at New York City’s Rikers Island in June. In this investigative piece, I explore the circumstances leading up to her death and why Layleen’s remarkable experience — that touches on the need for holistic healthcare, disability justice, sex work decriminalization and bail reform amongst other issues — has galvanized her family (both biological and chosen), activists, and the LGBTQ+ community at-large to demand justice for those lives lost to state violence.
In the second portion of this package, we honor 22 trans women of color that we reportedly lost as victims of violence in 2019. After months of interviews with family members, friends, and community members, I crafted the obituaries that these souls always deserved. Some loved ones were willing to share more about the women they knew than others, but let it be clear that each life lost carried a fuller story than their tragedy. Two obituaries are included that have not been determined as homicides by Memphis and Kansas City police departments, respectively: Jazzaline Ware and Bubba Walker.
The conclusion of the project is an attempt to move the discourse on the murders of trans women of color from tragedy to transformation. As we honor key figures of pivotal organizations and initiatives in the fight to end the epidemic with their own inclusion in the Out100, I have crafted a 13-step framework for how we can move into action. With a final step written by Serena Sonoma, it is abundantly that Black trans women and women of color have the solutions to this ever-present problem. It is on the rest of the community (and the world) to elevate our leadership financially, socially, and institutionally.
With our greatest honor of the year, it only makes sense that we uplift those women who live on my heart and the hearts of so many organizers and trans community members each year. What is more powerful, brave, and transformative than being yourself in a world that continuously tries to extinguish your flame.
—Raquel Willis, Out's Executive Editor
THE TRANS OBITUARIES PROJECT: