A few months ago, Zella Ziona began living openly as a woman. Friends say that she was an inspiration, she helped people. “When Zella’s around, there’s not a single frown in the room.”
Last Thursday, Zella Ziona was killed. In the alley behind a shopping center, a young man who she knew shot her in the head. She was 21.
Zella was 21 years old. She was just months into a life of living openly as a woman. I think of all the love I’ve felt, all the friendships I’ve made and strengthened, all the laughter, the self-discovery, the struggles and the overcoming of struggles, the joy and tears and growth and life I’ve been so lucky to experience since I was 21, and all that great complexity remaining for decades ahead of me. Zella was 21. She won’t get those things, and our world won’t get her inspiration, her help, her smile-inducing presence anymore.
Zella was shot 21 miles from where I live, in Montgomery Village, Gaithersburg. Her community is, in a larger sense, mine as well. Violence against trans women of color is happening in all of our communities, and we have to do something about it.
Here are a few of the things we can do about it:
- Acknowledge and insist that trans women are women. Don’t use names or pronouns for them that they do not identify with. If you hear others use the incorrect name or pronoun for someone, intervene.
- Celebrate trans women as deserving of romantic and physical love. Too many people will shame or stigmatize their friends or family members who date and/or have sex with trans women. Don’t do this; it puts trans women in danger. If you are dating or having sex with a trans woman, do so proudly and respectfully–and educate yourself about what exactly that means.
- Stand up for the humanity of trans women, including trans women of color, and including trans women who are sex workers. If you see someone or some pop culture treat trans women as disgusting, take a moment to examine and critique it (that scene from Ace Ventura, I’m looking at you). Don’t tolerate the use of slurs in your presence, or jokes that make light of violence against trans women, women of color, sex workers, or any and all combinations of those identities.
- Fight to change the law in your state so that “trans panic” is no longer a legally justified reason to murder someone. Just last month, California became the first state to ban the trans panic defense in murder trials. If you’re wondering how to put pressure on lawmakers in your own state, we’ve got you covered.
- Work for employment nondiscrimination laws. Many trans women are in a much more precarious situation, much more vulnerable to violence, because many jobs are closed to them due to discrimination.
We all have to do this work, and we have to prioritize it. It’s deadly urgent, because Zella Ziona was 21 in another sense, too. She was the 21st trans woman murdered in 2015. We can’t bring those 21 beautifully important women back to us; we need to do it for all the women who could be number 22.