Ty Underwood. Most people don’t know her name. Most people don’t know her story. Most people would just prefer not to know and keep going on about their lives. I can’t. Last week, Ty Underwood was brutally murdered somewhere near 24th Street in North Tyler, Texas. In addition to the murder, Ty faced the numerous struggles and oppressions that come with being a transgender woman of color in our society. When I first heard about the case, I immediately believed that it was a hate crime. Anyone who lives here in Texas knows the charged atmosphere that exists regarding anything perceived to be queer.
When I revealed to a woman that I was going to be a part of a vigil in North Tyler for Ty, she insinuated that transgender people often use drugs. I couldn’t let a comment like that go and replied, “Are you insinuating the gender expression of a person has to do with their propensity to use drugs?” To be transgender in our society is to be oppressed in life and death.
After the murder of black lesbian couple Britney Cosby and Crystal Jackson in Port Bolivar last spring, I helped organize a vigil in Fort Worth that four people attended. Though there was strong suspicion that Britney’s father murdered the couple, one of the leaders in the community questioned our insistence on holding the vigil and concluded, “You know this is not a hate crime?” I replied, “I had no idea that one of the stipulations of hate crime legislation was that the victim had to be white.” To be black in our society is to be oppressed in life and death.
“Black lives matter!” We have heard the demand for equality over and over the last few months. One would think that such demands would extend to transgender women of color. During the same period as our growing national conversation on race, numerous transgender women of color have been murdered. When police brutality has brought people into the streets, the death of transgender women of color has garnered little reaction. Who is there to demand justice? Presently, I am preparing to travel down to North Tyler, Texas to participate in a vigil for Ty Underwood and I will be thinking the whole time, “Does Ty’s life matter?”