Can the LGBT community spare some outrage for Duanna Johnson?

UPDATE: The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition has set up a fund for Duanna Johnson’s funeral expenses that you can donate to via PayPal. This seems to be the most legitimate and secure way of donating. Any funds collected above the cost of the funeral will go to Johnson’s family. Please donate if and what you can, and do it soon. A special request to everyone (like me) who donated to the No On Prop 8 campaign: try to match that donation, or even just half of it if you can’t manage the whole thing right now. We can get this raised fast if we all commit to that.

UPDATE 2 (11/14/08 7:46 EST): TTPC reports that they have received $4745 in donations for Duanna’s family. “The response has been tremendous. We have received around 165 donations from as far away as Japan. Duanna’s family will be thrilled. Thank you world!” I echo their thanks to everyone who donated and helped spread the word today. I wish we hadn’t had to raise this money in the first place, but I’m glad that we did. While no amount of money can undo the tragedy of their loss, at least we can help ease their financial burden and give them one less worry as they grieve. (end update)

Duanna Johnson

On February 12, 2008, Duanna Johnson was brutally beaten by a Memphis police officer after she refused to respond when the officer called her “he-she” and “faggot.” That night, Johnson became yet another of the countless trans women of color to be targeted and brutalized by police in this country. Two officers were fired after the attack; neither was prosecuted.

Just to be trans, just to be a woman, just to be a person of color in this country is enough to drastically increase one’s exposure to hatred and violence; when oppressions overlap, violence tends to multiply.

This past Sunday, Duanna Johnson was found murdered on the streets of Memphis. I didn’t hear about this until today, when I read a post on my friend Dean’s blog. When I read the awful news, I felt heartsick in a way that has become all too familiar and all too frequent.

After reading Dean’s post today, I was surprised to find out that Johnson was murdered nearly three days ago already and that I hadn’t heard about this until today. I know that I haven’t been very good at keeping up with the news or the blogosphere these past few days. But I can’t help but notice that despite this relative disconnection, I’ve read and heard no shortage of commentary, protest, and outrage about Proposition 8.

A Google News search for “Duanna Johnson” yields 50 results, many syndicated and therefore redundant. Much of the coverage is tainted by the transphobia and victim-blaming that tends to inflect media coverage of violence against trans women of color (like this Associated Press article). A search for “Proposition 8”? 18,085 results – 354.6 times more than for Duanna Johnson.

The skew in the blogosphere is less severe but still pronounced. A Google BlogSearch for Duanna Johnson: 2,300 results. For Prop 8? 240,839, or 100 times more.

Don’t think I’m being deliberately unrealistic or dismissive here. I don’t deny that the passage of Proposition 8 is harmful to the LGBT community and bears much anger, attention, and agitation. I understand the difference in magnitude of the number lives directly affected by the passage of Proposition 8 versus the number of lives directly affected by Duanna Johnson’s murder. I get that.

Yet still, the disparity in attention is damn stark. And that skew isn’t limited to this particular incident; it is a skew that is present in the collective coverage of and attention paid to all violence against trans women of color. And it is a skew that reflects what the GLb(t) mainstream chosen to prioritize with time, energy, and resources, and what it has chosen to address primarily with lip service and leftovers. An apt example of this: the Prop 8 op-ed written by Human Rights Campaign president Joe Solmonese communicates more anger, more commitment to an enduring fight for justice, more of a sense of giving a damn than his brief, comparatively tepid statement in HRC press release on Duanna Johnson’s death.

There is a call out for people to donate money to help Johnson’s mother pay her funeral expenses, which are right now expected to total $1195. Unfortunately, there is some confusion about how to make donations and concern about whether the funeral home is doing right by Mrs. Skinner. I advise folks who wish to donate to use caution; I hope that a clearer, more secure way of donating is established soon. UPDATE: It’s been established.

But when it is possible to make donations safely, I hope that many people donate whatever they can. $1195 is a relatively small amount to raise. Given that the No On Prop 8 campaign was able to raise $37.6 million – or 31,464 times the cost of Duanna Johnson’s funeral – raising this far smaller amount should be no problem for our community. Right?

Cross-posted at AngryBrownButch and Racialicious


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23 comments for “Can the LGBT community spare some outrage for Duanna Johnson?

  1. z
    November 14, 2008 at 1:44 am

    Hear fuckin’ hear.

    Let’s do something about the ever-increasing number of dead trans people we remember on the DOR. No one’ll get murdered because we can’t marry in California.

  2. November 14, 2008 at 6:18 am

    Jack, have you seen this? I’m trying to listen to that recording somehow. I know it was broadcast yesterday at 4 p.m. central time over at kwam990.com, but I’m in Jordan, where it was about midnight, and I got home only to have our internet crap out. I’m trying to see if anyone had the chance to listen in.

    I have no idea if there is a hoax being played on the DJ (the comments section on his site is incredibly transphobic – btw), but I want to find out for certain.

    Her death is really suspicious. There ought to be an independent investigation.

  3. betty brown
    November 14, 2008 at 6:36 am

    how terrible and tragic. and, thank you natalia for a well-written post. i wouldn’t have heard of this story otherwise, either.
    i went to that dj’s website, got as far as the 4th comment down that went on about the dregs of society/blame the victim…i couldn’t help myself and posted a short response. but, i certainly don’t feel any better. sometimes the internet is overwhelmingly depressing for me that way – anonymous forums where people feel free to say the vilest things.
    2008, and the hatred towards so, so many segments of our society is still so prevalent. my god. i just try to believe there is hope – that there is always some small hope. right?

  4. November 14, 2008 at 10:25 am

    Gee I wonder if the fact that she was suing the pigs for viciously beating her in an act that was video taped might not have something to do with her being executed?

    Sex workers who work the streets face extremely high rates of murder with little risk that anyone who harms them will do much if any jail time.

    But this case goes way beyond that. I think she was murdered by a police death squad.

  5. Iyapo
    November 14, 2008 at 10:36 am

    I was so sad to hear of her death a couple of days ago (I read about it on one of the other blogs I frequent). She was in the midst of suing the city and/or police dept. for their horrific treatment of her and now she is dead. I am really suspicious.

    She will be honored at my LGBT group’s TDOR function.

  6. November 14, 2008 at 10:41 am

    I’m not sure how to use all the tags here, so I apologize for writing out the addresses, but I found out about Duanna mostly in the WOC blogosphere. In relation to your post, I don’t know what that says about the LGBTQ coverage. My point is not to boost the WOC bloggers, but I was having similar thoughts about the coverage of Prop 8 vs. the coverage of Duanna’s murder, and thought it interesting that the many of the WOC bloggers I read were mourning and writing about it.

    http://profbw.squarespace.com/home/2008/11/12/duana-johnson-found-dead.html
    http://crip-power.com/2008/11/12/for-duanna-johnson/
    http://guyaneseterror.blogspot.com/
    http://transgriot.blogspot.com/2008/11/duanna-johnson-found-dead.html
    http://questioningtransphobia.wordpress.com/2008/11/10/duanna-johnson-murdered/

  7. CBrachyrhynchos
    November 14, 2008 at 10:43 am

    I’ve been wondering this also.

  8. November 14, 2008 at 11:59 am

    Does anyone know if there is a way to donate directly to her family? I’m sure that they have expenses and needs beyond even just the funeral cost and it would leave them less at the mercy of a sketchy funeral home.
    That a parent has to bury a child is awful enough, but that a parent has to bankrupt herself to do it is so horrible.

  9. November 14, 2008 at 1:15 pm

    @z: “No one’ll get murdered because we can’t marry in California.” Word.

    @Natalia: I hadn’t seen that, nor can I figure out a way to try to listen to the clip (maybe someone can try to contact Thaddeus Matthews?) But it is really troubling, especially in light of the fact that Johnson had recently started the process of filing suit against the Memphis Police Department for committing violence against her once before.

    @betty brown: Yes, there is hope, but only if we do something. The only way to stop this sort of violence is to coalesce into an enduring movement of people who demand justice.

    @Suzan: Thank you for pointing out that Duanna Johnson a sex worker and therefore part of yet another demographic that is targeted with violence both by the state and from society in general, violence that is fueled not only by racism, sexism, and classism but also by moralistic condemnation and victim-blaming.

    As for your assessment of what happened: this wouldn’t be the first time that a police department or individual police officers murdered someone who was troubling them in some way. Let’s wait and see if any substantial, trustworthy investigation happens.

    @Iyapo: While remembering the many trans people who have been killed at TDOR is important, it’s also important to go beyond that and engage in the struggle to actively combat violence against trans people in all its forms, physical or not. Not saying that you and your group aren’t doing that; just voicing that remembrance, while important, only does so much. We can’t just remember our dead; we need to help and fight for our living.

    @Sudy: No worries on not using tags, the links still work. And yeah – again I’m behind on the blogosphere but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if WOC (queer and non queer alike) bloggers covered this incident at a higher proportion than LGBTQ bloggers in general. Food for thought there.

    @annalouise: That’s what TN Transgender Political Coalition is planning on doing with the collected funds in excess of the funeral expenses themselves, thankfully.

  10. Charlotte Smith
    November 14, 2008 at 1:36 pm

    I sent $20 via PayPal. I’m only sorry I was unable to give anything during the election campaign. Thank you all for sending out the message – maybe by sharing the burden of pain and sadness it will become a bit easier to bear.

  11. Casey
    November 14, 2008 at 4:15 pm

    Sorry for all the confusion created by last minute organizing, but here is an important update:

    The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition has set up a Paypal account to help defray the cost’s of Duanna’s funeral and burial in order to more safely secure donations. Their website (ttgpac.com) explains how the money will be distributed.

  12. MgS
    November 14, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Actually, there’s quite a bit of coverage among GLBT bloggers – but I think Duanna’s death is overshadowed by the fallout of Prop 8 passing in California.

    All that said, there’s a lot of trans bloggers who won’t touch a story like that for very real fears about personal and group safety. (especially those who live in more ‘rednecky’ areas.

  13. anon today
    November 14, 2008 at 5:53 pm

    donated.

    and on thinking about it, went looking for uk charities that work for trans people and donated to one of those too.

  14. November 14, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    Thanks for posting this Jack. I saw it posted in another community the other day and it’s just a sickening story. I don’t know if it sounds weird to say now, but I felt so glad that she was suing the bastards. So glad, that she was, and so enraged that for some reason that’s not enough to have the case passed to a group outside of the department she was suing. I hope her family will be able to keep up the suit on behalf of her estate. I hope there is some justice for her, and some comfort for her family.

    It looks like the fundraising goal for her funeral costs has been surpassed by $3000, which I’m very glad to see.

  15. November 15, 2008 at 1:07 am

    Donated. And very glad for the opportunity to do SOMETHING constructive, even if it’s not much. Please keep us posted.

  16. November 15, 2008 at 5:27 am

    Jack, I’ve been in touch with Thaddeus, and he has had even more disturbing news to report on this case. Assuming he’s being forthright, and furthermore not being pranked, this case is looking even more disturbing than it already is (and it’s hard to get more disturbing than this).

    If you could get in touch with me at some point via e-mail, please do so (my personal e-mail is listed with my comment, of course). I’d like to talk to you more about what’s been happening, but I don’t have all of my facts straight yet.

  17. November 17, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Sometimes the waves are slow moving, but Google’s got it up to 13,300 today.

  18. November 18, 2008 at 10:02 am

    Let’s see how many of the hundreds of thousands of people who marched last week for same-sex marriage will show up to honor the Trans Day of Remembrance. Let’s see whether or not our cissexual gay “allies” show up to remember our dead in even a single percent of the numbers.

    Especially this year, when organizations like the HRC are taking over so many of the commemorations and trying to cheer them up into ‘Transgender Awareness Day’.

  19. December 3, 2008 at 3:34 am

    I think it’s super important to bring attention to anti-trans violence, especially the disproportionate number of transwomen of color who make up most of the TDOR list. But I also take issue with the way the title of this post assumes that no one in “the queer community” or any queer community cares about these issues. the people in the mainstream gay rights movement who get most of the attention don’t speak for all of us, and as you’ve said eloquently many times, only reflect the interests of the privileged few. gays should have the right to get married, but people who prioritize marriage rights to the exclusion of addressing queer suicide, queer drug abuse, queer homelessness, anti-queer and trans violence perpetuated within as well as from outside of queer communities don’t speak for me or for many other queer young people of color, so can we generally assign blame to the entire GLBT community for what those with the media’s attention do with it? is this not overlooking the tireless efforts of those within the community who work to end violence against transgender/variant, queer and intersex people?

  20. December 3, 2008 at 9:16 am

    Given that Jack is part of the “LGBT community” and is pointing out this very issue along with a number of other queer folks in the comments, I’m not sure how you could really arrive at that conclusion. It’s not like some straight people showed up and were like “hey queers, you should adjust your priorities,” ignoring the fact that there are plenty of us who DO care about these issues. The point is pretty much exactly as you put it — the “mainstream” gay rights movement is getting most of the attention. Not just attention, but dollars, press coverage, political clout. I think that seriously deserves to be pointed out, even though Jack, I, you, a whole lot of other people who commented here, and most of my own sub-community of the larger (and somewhat illusory, non-united) “LGBT population” don’t agree that marriage should take precedence over murdered trans women of color.

  21. December 3, 2008 at 9:31 am

    @Angry Black-White Girl: Holly gets where I’m coming from here. My title is using “LGBT community” as shorthand for “larger mainstream LGBT community” – the nature of a title necessitates the shorthand, and shorthand often lacks nuance. That’s why I tried to make it clear who and what I was talking about in the rest of my support. I’m personally part of and connected to LGBT communities that are doing the tireless work of which you speak, so I definitely wouldn’t deny or ignore their efforts; but they’re also not the ones with the bulk of the resources, money, and media attention, and therefore not the ones I was addressing here.

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