By Katie Speller
Earlier this week, When the Miami-Dade County police confirmed the death of 46-year-old Kristina Grant Reinwald as a homicide, the LGBTQ communities of Miami mobilized to grieve together as a family.
The candle light vigil held on Thursday night in downtown Miami honored not only Reinwald, but the other five transgender women murdered in 2015:
Bri Golec, who was allegedly stabbed by her father in Akron, OH on February 13.
Penny Proud, 21, who was fatally shot in New Orleans, LA on Feb. 10.
Taja DeJeus, 36, who was stabbed to death on a stairwell in of San Francisco, CA on Feb. 1.
Yazmin Vash Payne, 22, who was fatally stabbed in Los Angeles, CA on Jan. 31.
Ty Underwood, 24, who was shot to death in North Tyler, TX on Jan. 26.
Lamia Beard, 30, who was found shot to death in Norfolk, VA on Feb. 17.
In a recent press release Chai Jindasurat, Co-Director of Community Organizing and Public Advocacy at the New York City Anti Violence Project (AVP) said that 2015 has already seen an “alarming epidemic of deadly violence” against LGBTQ communities, particularly transgender women of color.
“We need more public awareness and respect campaigns, more people speaking out against this violence, and more protections, particularly for transgender people, from harassment and discrimination,” said Jindasurat. “This is an outrage, and we all have to commit as a nation to ending this violence.”
Katrina Goodlett, Host of The Kitty Bella Radio Show and Co-founder of the Trans Women of Color Collective, told us in an interview that the sheer number of deaths — though nothing new in a long history of transphobic and racially charged violence — has put their community in “a state of emergency.”
When The Media Fails, It’s An Act of Violence
The tragedy of these deaths is made worse by the limited and disappointing media coverage. While most major media outlets fail to even report on the crimes, those that do often identify incorrect names, genders and pronouns.
The erasure harms not only the memory of the departed, but also those who mourn them. When a false gender or name is reported, Goodlett said the important information on the investigation can easily get lost to the family and friends. It’s a final insult to the deceased.
“It’s violence, essentially,” explains Goodlett. “For a trans woman of color to see the murders of their sisters, friends and families and then to see the media mis-gender and use transphobic language? It is violence. There’s no peace when you’re mis-gendered.”
Goodlett says the poorly done stories play to harmful transgender narratives by attacking the character of a victim with references to criminal activity and sex work, implying that the transgender person was trying to deceive someone else, or otherwise defaming the dead who can’t defend themselves.
So, how can we change the way the media talks about transgender women?
It starts with just getting educated: GLAAD has created a handy guide for properly reporting on transgender individuals, completely in-line with The Associated Press Style Guide. Publications should also spend a little more time confirming the identities, names and pronouns of their sources.
From there, it’s going to require empathy, says Goodlett.
“These girls are all someone’s family member — a sister, a daughter an aunt — they all fit into someone’s life,” says Goodlett. “Show this person mattered.”
A Sister and Mentor Remembered
Kristina Grant Reinwald was an accomplished performer in the Miami House Scene’s balls — pageant competitions that involve skills in dance, drag and performance.
She was known for her love of old-school drama, her passion for flamenco music and her love of memorable feather-filled performances. She had a brother she adored, a mother who stood by her, and a family of both transgender and drag sisters she mentored and looked out for.
“What stood out about [Reinwald] was how beautifully she presented herself,” says Alexis Lords, a long-time friend of Reinwald. “When she competed, your mouth would just drop at how stunning and beautiful she was. But she was the friendliest person ever, laughing and joking with everybody.”
Reinwald exemplified the family dynamic of the House Scene. The Houses (which include the Lords and Infinitis) are families comprised of LGBTQ individuals who may have been rejected by or chosen to leave their birth families because of their identity, Lords said. They’re a place where LGBTQ individuals can find a loving and accepting home.
“[Reinwald] was always so helpful and kind, helping people become comfortable with their identities and become who they wanted to be,” Lords said.
Milancita Rodriguez, a close friend, fondly recalled a time Reinwald trained a younger performer to compete at a ball. She says she’ll never forget the look of absolute joy on Reinwald’s face when her trainee won her category.
“You’d think [Reinwald] won the biggest trophy in the world, seeing her girl win,” Rodriguez said. “It’s amazing how high class and beautiful she looked. She trained her to be a queen.”
Although no suspect has been named, Rodriguez says she and others in her community can’t rest until Reinwald’s killer is found and the media and authorities take the lives and deaths of trans individuals more seriously.
She hopes her friend’s memory will serve as a catalyst for change in how the deaths of transgender women are investigated. “Every life matters. Transgender lives matter.”