State records highest total in nation, which saw 86% increase in deadly hate violence.
By Lourdes Zavaleta
Brandi Seals grew up misunderstood by her peers. When she transitioned at 14, her classmates physically and verbally attacked her.
“She was bullied most of her life,” said her mother, Mazda Seals. “Brandi was beaten, raped, and robbed on several occasions. I constantly feared for her.”
Seals says her biggest fear became a reality on December 13, 2017, when she received a call from the Houston Police Department informing her that Brandi, 26, had been found shot to death at the site of an under-construction Sunnyside home. Brandi, a black transgender woman, was at least the eighth LGBTQ person murdered in Texas in 2017, the highest total of any state in the U.S., according to a report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP).
“We’ve heard a lot of hate rhetoric from our elected officials, both locally and nationally,” said Lou Weaver, Houston-based transgender programs coordinator for Equality Texas. “With this in place, more people are likely to be anti-LGBTQ. Anti-LGBTQ legislation has led to groupthink and a mob mentality.”
At least 52 LGBTQ people were killed nationwide last year as a result of hate-related violence, according to the NCAVP report. That is the highest number in the 20 years that the NCAVP has tracked LGBTQ murders, and represents an 86 percent increase from 2016.
“Trump won the election by saying it was time to take back America for people feeling pushed out by LGBTQ people, immigrants, and people of color,” NCAVP executive director Beverly Tillery told the Huffington Post. “It was a tactical move to attack those communities. It worked, and there are more instances of violence because the climate in the country has changed. It has given an opening for people to feel like they can commit acts of hate-based violence without much repercussion.”
Twenty-seven of the 52 LGBTQ murder victims were trans, and 22 of the trans victims were, like Seals, women of color. Of the eight Texans murdered, four were trans, three were trans women of color, and six were people of color.
In 2016, the NCAVP reported the death of only one LGBTQ Texan, Eryka Tijerina, a Latina trans woman. The number of Texas LGBTQ murders jumped to seven in the coalition’s 2017 report, but the report does not include Devon Wade, a 28-year-old gay black man who was fatally shot in his Atascocita home on November 26. Wade’s boyfriend, Mario Williams, turned himself in after the shooting and has been charged with murder.
Seals’ death is also being investigated as a homicide. Seals was misgendered (and “dead-named” as male) in media reports about her murder, including by a Houston police detective. Police chief Art Acevedo attended a vigil for Seals outside City Hall and apologized for the detective’s comments, vowing to conduct more training.
Seals was correctly identified by Houston activist Atlantis Narcisse, a black trans women and the founder of Save Our Sisters, a support group for trans women of color.
“Being misgendered speaks volumes about how trans folk are disrespected, even in death,” Narcisse said. “It is time for society to stop creating our narratives.”
After growing up in South Houston, Seals transitioned while attending Westfield High School, where she later dropped out because of bullying, according to her mother.
In her 20s, Brandi attended Houston Community College and studied cosmetology. Around that time, she also turned to sex work to pay for gender-confirmation surgery. Brandi’s family suspects that a male suitor was responsible for her death.
The investigation into Seals’ murder is still in its early stages, according to HPD spokesman Kese Smith. Anyone with information should call Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS (8477).
The other Texas LGBTQ murder victims in 2017 were:
• Glenser Soliman, a 44-year-old gay Asian man who was found dead in Houston on February 25. Authorities believe Soliman was lured to his death while using a dating app. Brandon Lyons has charged with Soliman’s murder. Lyons and his cousin Jerrett Allen, who was also identified as a suspect, may be responsible for more deaths targeting gay men.
• An Nguyen, a 26-year-old Asian man who identified as gay, was last seen in Houston on March, 31 and is presumed dead. His disappearance has also been linked to Lyons and Allen. Allen has been charged with the unauthorized use of Nguyen’s credit cards.
• Kenne McFadden, a 27-year-old black trans woman, was killed in San Antonio on April 8. She was originally misgendered in media reports, and her death was mistakenly classified as a drowning. Her death was reclassified as a homicide and Mark Daniel Lewis has been charged in her murder.
• Robert Lee Covington, a 54-year-old white gay man, was found suffocated to death in his home in Dallas on July 7. According to media reports, a man named Yevin Rushing met Covington on Craigslist and has since been charged in connection with his homicide.
• Gwenevere River Song, a 26-year-old white trans person, was fatally shot in Waxahachie on August 12. Song, who used “they” pronouns, was allegedly killed by their father after an argument at home escalated to violence.
• Elizabeth Stephanie Montez, a 47-year-old Latinx trans woman, was fatally shot near Robstown on October 21. Authorities and local media both misgendered Montez in initial reports. Police have since arrested and charged three suspects with her murder.
This article appears in the March 2018 edition of OutSmart magazine.