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 Feministe and Racialicious

40 Responses to “Can the LGBT community spare some outrage for Duanna Johnson?”

  1. 1 Dex

    Thanks for writing this, Jack. This is the kind of post I’ve been wanting to see for the past few days.

  2. 2 az

    Many thanks for writing this from me also. The lines that have been drawn between race and queerness, around Prop 8 stuff, and now the sad news of Duanna Johnson’s death are a reminder that people of colour are still the scapegoats for all kinds of state and non-state violence — and voting down Prop 8 wouldn’t have changed that.

  3. 3 adelaide

    I remember watching the video of Duanna Johnson speak out against the police brutality she experienced back in February. It was so inspiring to see a tran woc being so visible and speaking out against her attackers on the nightly news. I wonder if she would have had that opportunity were the officers not caught on video?

    I agree the passage of prop 8 and banning of gay marriage in several states severly hurts the lgbtqqia movement. What really hurts the so called movement is an unwillingness to cross issues and movements in analysis and practice. This lets mainstream glb (i dont even want to include t) pull shit like blame black voters for the passage of prop 8 or exclude transgendered folk in important propositions (i.e. hrc/ barney frank: This lets mainstream marginalize their own “community”.

    As a transgendered woman I do not comfortable or proud to be included in glbt. The t is merely there for deocoration.

  4. 4 Jack

    @Dex: Glad to provide it; thanks for reading and appreciating it.

    @az: “people of colour are still the scapegoats for all kinds of state and non-state violence — and voting down Prop 8 wouldn’t have changed that.” This is so true. But sometimes it seems like folks think Prop 8 is the end-all-be-all of GLb(t) liberation. Maybe because it will fix most of their problems, and too bad for people who are left out and left behind?

    @adelaide: thank you for your comment; agreed, 100%. The “t” really is so often just tacked on to make a show of inclusivity, a show that is evidenced as being empty time and time again.

  5. 5 Charles

    Prop 8 was a movement with multiple gateways to be involved, and feel good by being involved. This incident is all about sadness and anger. No movement. No future for Duanna. Nothing to do but bury the corpse. Of course folks will be less interested.

    Hope trumps anger. Every. Single. Time. Which really sucks if you are in to having your anger triggered. It’s a sad and lonely space you operate in, Angrybrownbutch. Good luck to you.

  6. 6 Amanda Hickman

    I don’t think there is “no movement,” Charles. Or no hope. There is a lot of hope in saying “this doesn’t have to happen again.” And it isn’t hope like “we can be showered with rose petals and eat a big cake!” but it is still hope.

  7. 7 Veronica

    Thanks for writing this…I’m speechless at the loss of life and the lack of coverage in the media. Goes along with all the “Weird news of the day-pregnant man pregnant again!” crap I’ve been reading the last few days. *sigh*

  8. 8 Dex

    @Charles: Really, nothing to do? What about working to stop this from happening over and over again, as it has for too long? Violence against trans women of colour (or anyone) should not be seen as an inevitability that we can do nothing about. That’s part of the problem.

    And if an incident like this doesn’t make you angry, well, then, I don’t know.

  9. 9 Sudy

    “Nothing to do but bury the corpse”

    and Jack is the one in the sad and lonely place?

  10. 10 Jack

    @Charles: I don’t really know how to take your post. Maybe I’m missing an element of tone or something? I guess I’ll just take it at face value and respond as such.

    Prop 8 was a movement with multiple gateways to be involved, and feel good by being involved. This incident is all about sadness and anger. No movement. No future for Duanna. Nothing to do but bury the corpse. Of course folks will be less interested.

    I don’t know how you’ve decided that there’s no movement and “nothing to do but bury the corpse” – which was frankly an incredibly cold and disrespectful way to put that. Yes, Duanna Johnson’s life is over and there’s nothing we can do now to help her, specifically. But, as others have written, there is plenty that can be done to ensure that people like Duanna – trans people, women, people of color, sex workers – don’t continue to be targeted by violence, police brutality, and hatred. And there is absolutely a movement, many movements in fact, working towards that goal. Here in NYC alone I can think of quite a few organizations that dedicate themselves to working towards those goals: TransJustice of the Audre Lorde Project which organizes the yearly Trans Day Of Action, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and FIERCE! to name just three. You can volunteer for organizations like these; you can attend or publicize their events on your blog; you can march on the next Trans Day of Action; you can click the mouse a few times and make a donation. There is plenty to do if you just bother to look. Maybe it takes more effort because this movement gets far less attention than movements like No On Prop 8; maybe there’s not as many convenient, easy ways to pat yourself on the back and feel good about yourself; but I think it happens to be worth it anyway.

    I also think that donating to help her family in their time of need constitutes something to do. As does voicing grief and, yes, anger – we need to break the relative silence around incidents like this.

    Hope trumps anger. Every. Single. Time. Which really sucks if you are in to having your anger triggered. It’s a sad and lonely space you operate in, Angrybrownbutch. Good luck to you.

    Now, I really don’t know what to make of this, because it sounds pretty patronizing and condescending. I think anger is useful when channeled into action to make change, which is what I do with my anger. I think the action to make change is what creates hope. Hope and anger are not mutually exclusive, and sometimes one necessitates the other. I think that Duanna Johnson’s death requires anger, and requires the action necessary to create hope.

  11. 11 Charles

    Jack, I think it’s great you are raising this issue, and I confess to being inspired by the outpouring of support for the family of the deceased.
    My one measly point was that it was logical for this incident to get far less attention, from my perspective as a sometimes organizer. My approach is not ‘what makes me angry’ or ‘what moves me’ but ‘is this a hook for broader change?’ I’m more than happy to find out I’m wrong, and that this tragic incident can be salvaged to make change in Memphis, or for trans WOC in general.


  12. 12 queen emily

    Yes, Charles, the GLB community has never used sadness or outrage as a motivating factor for activism. Ignoring uh AIDS, the one death of (white, gay) Matthew Shephard sparked state and national anti-hate crime legislation.

    Trans WoC get murdered approximately once a month in this country, and the silence and general lack of give-a-shit from the GLB organisations in getting any kind of activism or rights towards even vaguely moderating that violence is disgusting in the extreme.

    Cos see, some queer rights are more valuable than others, and only some deaths are worth mourning.

  13. 13 Nick

    Thanks for this. I posted something less evolved or researched on: and someone pointed me to your blog.

  14. 14 Linus

    Prop 8 was a movement with multiple gateways to be involved, and feel good by being involved. This incident is all about sadness and anger. No movement. No future for Duanna. Nothing to do but bury the corpse. Of course folks will be less interested.[/quote]

    Really? So protests against wars that kill people are just movements of hope? I dunno. Same-sex marriage should be allowed to everyone but I don’t think it should be done at the expense of others dying. It wasn’t the African American community that killed Prop 8; it was the arrogance of the LGB community that they were going to walk to a win. The Mormon Church came in and did what the LGB community didn’t: organize their grassroots communities together well and their allies too.


    What worries me is that there will be a huge effort towards Prop 8 and then when it’s all done, life will return to normal. Normal is, of course, ignoring that silent T on the end of LGBTQ while those that are the T are being killed in the streets.

    [quote]Hope trumps anger. Every. Single. Time. Which really sucks if you are in to having your anger triggered. It’s a sad and lonely space you operate in, Angrybrownbutch. Good luck to you.[/quote]

    Hope doesn’t trump anger every time. Sometimes one has to get angry. Sometimes we have to show that an injustice is an injustice and that it hurts, maims and pisses us off. I get to speak from a privileged white transguy point of view and cannot imagine what trans POC have to face every time they walk out the door. I face fear but likely will be afforded the right to be myself because of my privilege. I don’t know if the same can be said for trans POC since there is even more discrimation heaped on top of being trans.

    People showed outrage and anger about Prop 8 passing by doing peaceful protests. Why can they not do the same about an injust death of a woman who just wanted to be herself and who wanted the right to be? Why is it ok to ignore that and treat trans persons as if we don’t exist?

    And Charles, I don’t think Jack is alone in this. Or perhaps Jack is. I mean, the white privileged LGB community is really the main part of who’s fighting for Prop 8 while the trans community is silently being killed and ignored. Jack may end up being the last person standing, saying “uh… hello!?”.

    [quote]I’m more than happy to find out I’m wrong, and that this tragic incident can be salvaged to make change in Memphis, or for trans WOC in general.[/quote]

    You can find out if you’re wrong. Look for Trans Days of Remembrence events in your area and come out. Remember those who are no longer with us and learn about how *YOU* can make a difference so that events like what happened to Miss Johnson become rarer.

    Also, as a footnote, there are trans MOC as well who face discrimination, are cast out and worse by society. Please don’t ignore them as well.

    — Linus

  15. 15 Markee

    Duanna’s murder and the muted response is outrageous to say the least. As a transwoman, I agree with the previous statements regarding the increase of violence and misery to people of color and that the “t” in GLBTIA seems more symbolic than representative. But, while I acknowledge my white privilege, such as it is currently embodied, I’m concerned when the focus of violence, and especially trans/gender-queer violence becomes valued by virtue of the characteristics that have been used to divide us. We need to stick together – all are worthy of their suffering and everyone of us needs to step up and begin speaking for ourselves, as part of a multi-cultural and diverse community, and to redirect the emphasis away from the hands that murder us to those that couldn’t be bothered to help all those years before. All trans, queer and gender questionning people are my family – and those of us who retain privilege or fortune are responsible for the majority who have so much less. Next week is the Transgender day of remembrance; speak out, be visible and strengthen the coalition that we need to push beyond fighting for our lives and to begin demanding our rights.

  16. 16 Charles

    I see that I was
    – insensitive
    – wrong on the history
    – wrong on the politics

    Thanks for all the informative comments people. I learned from you.

  17. 17 private

    Jack, another transwoman of color was murdered this weekend. Her name was Teish Cannon. She was 20 years old and lived in Syracuse, NY.

  18. 18 Linus

    Whoa. I read an additional article here: where it says she was living as a woman (which isn’t identified in the first article).

  19. 19 Richard

    Thanks Jack
    Everyone is so busy wanting to say I do that as always they are forgetting about everything else. I love to hear and read all the tack on’s to the demo’s over marriage. I am afraid once the homonormative irate gays get their way its back to doing what they do so well everything that is at the end of their nose. I am so sick of that issue taking the whole pie I don’t want to even hear the word marriage again. As a 60 year old white man in the movement for 40 years I can only say I no longer know this movement. The movement of I got mine, now go get yours. A movement where the rich white, gay community tries to convince us all that what their interests are so then are ours. But I fight on. I fight on because of what happened to Duanna and many others. I fight on for liberation for us all.

    The lack of attention to the murder of Duanna really hurts me more. I posted last Friday about it on Queers Without Borders and we all did what we could to send in a donation. Over $5,000 was raised in one afternoon. As any of us can gather the police killed that woman and there must be a full investigation. Damn Jack I am so mad I have to stop.

  20. 20 billie

    I would like to add to the many expressions of appreciation to Jack for this piece. The consistency of media violence which follows transphobic violence certainly continues with this recent expression of hate. The New York Times covered Duanna Johnson’s murder today, “Memphis Killing Revives Anger at Assault by Police.” However, much like their coverage of the NJ7 (now NJ4) they have yet again lent a hand to bashing. The article is brief. The firing of officers McRae and Swain and the sensitivity training conducted by Tennessee Equality Project are implicitly celebrated as justice. There is little exploration into the lack of prosecution of the two officers. The language used throughout the article is apologetic of heteronormativity. Especially the description of the psychological abuse Ms. Johnson received as, “anit-gay epithets.”

  21. 21 DaisyDeadhead
  22. 22 jaysays

    Thank you for the detailed information and post. It is shocking to me the lack of media coverage these disgusting displays of violence have received. In all actuality, I only learned of Duanna’s murder when looking for additional information on Teisha’s murder, and I read a lot of news reports to keep up with my blog.

  23. 23 Miranda

    Hi Jack – I’m co-leader of my school’s GSA, and we’ve been discussing issues of race, class, and “acceptable” queerness for the past few weeks. Your posts, especially this one, have been invaluable food for thought about what the mainstream queer justice movement is willing to get loud about. Thank you.

  24. 24

    I’m almost disgusted to say I work for the justice system. I can’t believe stuff like this still goes on these days…sad.

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