Three transgender women of color have been murdered in Los Angeles in the past four months -- Deshawnda Bradley, 21, was one of them. In December she was shot and killed on a porch as she banged on a front door for help in South Los Angeles. Members of our transgender community, particularly trans women of color, are being targeted with violence at an alarming rate. In Los Angeles, attacks on transgender women rose 46 percent last year and 100 percent of all anti-transgender crimes were violent, As news broke earlier this month about an arrest in Deshawnda's murder, it is more important than ever to venerate Deshawnda's life and remember her for who she was.
Soon after I started working in the Communications Department at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, I was part of the group of supporters from the Center who attended Deshawnda's funeral and celebration of life. Sitting in St. Matthew Baptist Church that day, I saw colors -- unapologetically bright beautiful hues everywhere: neon green boots in the front row, a bubblegum pink suit; the pallbearers' fluorescent orange vests; aqua blue hair highlights in the pews; the step team's fashionably bejeweled uniforms. Intentionally or not, they were reflections of Deshawnda's personality, who was eulogized as an extraordinarily "colorful person of many shades."
Friends and family lauded her as an excelling student, a dedicated drill team and drum squad member, a faithful member of church, and an aspiring cosmetologist. Her sisters recalled her contagious sense of humor and her love for doing hair at the drop of a hat. When Deshawnda's friend -- also a trans activist -- stood at the podium and spelled Deshawnda's name front to back, from D for "divine" to A for "authentic," she accidentally skipped the letter "H." But, the crowd cheerfully swooped in with suggestions: "happy," "Hollywood" and "hot."
I didn't expect I'd be so affected by this reverence -- or by this person I never knew. I'm not religious, but a wave of emotions swept over me sitting in those pews. I felt overwhelmed by the love in the room. I felt so sorry that Deshawnda's family and friends had been deprived of her future. I felt so harrowingly upset that it had been taken from her and in the way it had.
I remember thinking I finally understood what Maya Angelou meant when she wrote: "People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." Although Deshawnda wasn't in the room with us, her presence was felt in those vibrant colors, in the spirited dancing and emotional gospel song tributes, in each person who could see as clear as day that this woman was loved and missed.
However, when the obituary was read aloud from the printed program, a pitted feeling in my stomach started to sink. Her preferred name, Deshawnda, had been replaced with her birth name, Deshawn. All her life's achievements were credited under a name that wasn't her own anymore. She pronouns were substituted with he. The identity she had built for herself had been bulldozed, erased, dismissed, wiped away in the subtraction of two letters in her name and the intentional misspelling of a pronoun.
It was obvious some of her closest family and friends had difficulty fully accepting and respecting Deshawnda for being the woman she was. I couldn't help but think what if people disregarded who I was once I couldn't stand up for myself? As a transperson, I know how harmful one singular wrong word -- a pronoun, a name -- can be. But imagine having no way to speak up, no way to defend yourself, and no way to correct the inaccuracies of your entire life. Imagine your story being rewritten by someone else's hand.
Remembering Deshawnda means remembering all of her -- not just parts and pieces. Her life was a testament to authenticity. We all have a responsibility to safeguard her dignity after death, even if it wasn't always respected during life. So, in my journal, I rewrote her obituary with her name and pronouns. I just wanted to somehow honor her the way she lived -- as a colorful, divine, and authentic woman.
This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.
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