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It good for him

Monday, December 11, 2017

In a shooting with all the hallmarks of a bias crime, a well-loved trans woman, a performer, an HIV worker, a community advocate, was murdered Tuesday. Sasha Fierce she chose to be called.

2017 Murder Victim #465. It is a pain virtually no one in the nation is spared.

We’ve become enured. My first reaction was to the secondary violence—deliberately spiteful sneers in social media threads; salacious pictures of her corpse, reproduced by a tasteless foreign gay newshouse; dehumanising language in early media stories. Even if you didn’t know her, you could feel it. On the first story, a single poster commented: It good for him.

Wednesday night I listened to a weary, irritable prime minister struggle, in an interview marking two years in office, to share vision or be generous. Those are the leadership qualities called for in hard times, in times of so much killing. The PM looked as if he felt powerless. Like I felt.

To my surprise, media houses reported my criticism of the murder’s reporting. Several were considerable introspective. A radio news director asked for guidance, shared he had lectured his staff on appropriate pronouns. The Guardian editor who hired me, now in leadership elsewhere, updated a reporter’s story and changed its headline from “transgender man” to “transgender woman.” It’s not political correctness. It’s two simple principles: To humanise people, especially when they’ve just been killed. And to respect who people choose to be. To call people who “crossdress” trans, because the term includes them.

NGO colleagues from other fields I ran into or talked to—for the first time after months away—opened by offering condolences. And called Sasha by name.

My jaw dropped open, reading that police had arrived on the crime scene, got tips from eyewitnesses, sent out a bulletin, stopped a car matching their description miles away, and detained its occupants. That is policing we usually see only on television.

My boundless faith in the destiny of the place started to come back. How full of good intention it can be. For every hateful comment celebrating Sasha’s murder, there’d been a simple appeal to humanity. Watch and share this video of her: Full of life and purpose. It’s one of six that 20-year-old NGO Friends for Life, the oldest sex/gender diversity organisation in T&T, shot earlier this year, supported by US funding to Caricom. They’re alone in consistently focusing on the lives of trans women and working class LGBTQI people. Social worker Luke Sinnette and UWI psychiatrist Prof. Gerard Hutchinson support two trans women to localise and humanise trans experience, to give it texture and realness (apart from the largeness of the Caitlin Jenners and Jowelle deSouzas and Saucy Pows). Sasha talks about “the violence from the public, from some of your peers, the work industry, hospital.”

Sasha is one of approaching 500 lost lives—with little short-term to be done about the murder rate.

But I imagined how powerful and lasting it would be if political leaders did the simple things my colleagues in the media and NGOs did this week. Like call her name. Like say, without the sneer or grudge or omission the Prime Minister always manages, that LGBTQI people are full, deserving citizens. To say it outside of scoring points across the Parliament aisle.

Or if they asked us for guidance. Strategised about what they could do politically.

In times of powerlessness, leaders become powerful when they show the smallest compassion. Human Rights Day is an occasion not for state defensiveness, but generosity. That would be good for T&T.


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