Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Memphis Nocturne

Like Dallas, Memphis, Tennessee, cannot shake the reputation for violence. The assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in April 1968 will always haunt the city that bills itself “The Home of the Blues/The Birthplace of Rock n’ Roll.”

The Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee

Four savage attacks against transgender women of color in Memphis reinforce the reputation Memphians would rather forget, and focus the attention of the nation on the terrible price transgender Americans pay for being true to themselves. Tiffany Berry, 21-years-old, was shot three times in the chest by a man who “did not like the way she had touched him.” Berry’s February 16, 2006, murder was a grim prelude to the murders of 20-year-old Ebony Whitaker on July 1, 2008, and 43-year-old Duanna Johnson on November 9, 2008. Johnson made national headlines when her beating by two Memphis Police Officers was captured on a jailhouse video camera earlier in the year. At the time of her murder, Johnson was pursuing a $1.3 million lawsuit against the Memphis Police Department. All three hate crime murder victims were African American transwomen. On Christmas Eve 2008, yet another African American transwoman, Leeneshia Edwards, was shot in the jaw, side and back in a near-fatal attack.

Tiffany Berry

Ebony Whitaker

Duanna Johnson

Anti-transgender violence is on the rise throughout the United States. Attacks like these could happen in any city in the country. Ironically, Memphis is served by a liberal Jewish congressman with a 100% rating by the Human Rights Campaign, and the police department is submitting to sensitivity training by LGBT experts. Yet Memphis bears a special responsibility for extending and protecting civil rights.

In March 1968, Memphis garbage workers began carrying placards bearing “I AM A MAN” to underscore their humanity in the struggle for dignity and living wages. After Dr. King’s assassination, that slogan became famous throughout the world, signifying the determination of black people to win their freedom. Four decades later, with the election of America’s first black president, a newer version of that slogan needs to be invented to highlight the struggle of transgender people of color who face violence and indignities of every kind: “I AM A HUMAN BEING.”


Dr. King wrote in his famous Letter From A Birmingham Jail, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” Gay, Bi, Lesbian, Trans or Straight, the freedom and security of all of us depends on the freedom and security of any of us. That makes all of us, on the eve of a new presidency offering hope, inextricably involved with what is happening to our trans sisters in the streets of Memphis.

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Alabama’s Birmingham Jail

January 20, 2009 - Posted by | African Americans, gun violence, police brutality, Protests and Demonstrations, Racism, Tennessee, transgender persons, Uncategorized


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