Students discuss the killing of a local black trans woman

The UMD Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Equity Center provided students with a space to grieve and process the recent killing of a local black trans woman.

Ashanti Carmon, 27, of Alexandria, was fatally shot on the morning of March 30, according to Prince George’s County Police Department. Carmon was shot on Jost Street right outside of Northeast Washington. The proximity of Carmon’s killing hit close to home for UMD students.

On Thursday, March 4, 2019, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equity Center provided students with a safe space to share how they felt about the killing of a local black trans woman. The LGBT Equity Center is located in Marie Mount Hall. (Amina Lampkin/The Black Explosion)

On Thursday, March 4, 2019, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Equity Center provided students with a safe space to share how they felt about the killing of a local black trans woman. The LGBT Equity Center is located in Marie Mount Hall. (Amina Lampkin/The Black Explosion)

Ellie Litwack, a sophomore mechanical engineering major, is the facilitator for TransU, a weekly discussion group in the LGBT Equity Center. Litwack opened the discussion with a warning of violence as the discussion topic and instructed students to close their eyes and take deep breaths.

Following Carmon’s death, Litwack was having dinner with friends and realized they needed a space to process what had happened.

“I think it’s easy to work oneself into a panic over this,” Litwack told The Black Explosion in an interview prior to the discussion. “But the reality is, especially for black trans people, face a disproportionate amount of violence in America.”

The Human Rights Coalition tracked at least 29 transgender deaths in the United States during 2017 and the majority of those victims were transgender women of color.

Given the sensitive nature of the discussion, some students asked to remain anonymous.

Students used a wide range of words to describe how they felt about Carmon’s death: “detached,” “disappointed,” “saddened,” “angry.”

Feelings of detachment stemmed from not being able to identify with the same identities as Carmon and understanding some of the privileges that come with that.

“Being a transman comes with the privilege of not having to worry so much about being killed,” one student said. Another student noted how passing as a transwoman is in part easier because of her whiteness.

One student carries a mace out of fear for potential violence against her. The closeness of Carmon’s death “put stock” in and validated her fears.

The criminalization of sexwork is an overlooked topic that Litwack wanted to focus on in the discussion. Traditionally known as prostitutes or escorts, the phrase “sex work” redefines those services to be legitimate occupations, in an attempt to remove the connotation of criminalization, Litwack explained.

The LGBT Equity Center welcomes students, staff and faculty to engage in meaningful discussions that build an equitable community for all at the University of Maryland, regardless of sexual or gender orientation. (Amina Lampkin/The Black Explosion)

The LGBT Equity Center welcomes students, staff and faculty to engage in meaningful discussions that build an equitable community for all at the University of Maryland, regardless of sexual or gender orientation. (Amina Lampkin/The Black Explosion)

Dr. Alexis Lothian, a UMD professor specializing in queer theory and media studies, said instead of punishing hate crimes, sex workers are being punished for trying to survive.

Student comments during this portion of the discussion recognized sex work as a legitimate and often unwanted occupation that should be decriminalized. One student compared it to working at McDonalds: “you don’t want to be there, but you need money and have to.”

In July 2018, President Trump signed the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act/Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (FOSTA-SESTA) into law. This law holds websites criminally liable if their site allows users to promote or facilitate prostitution. While intended to reduce online sex trafficking, the law prevents sex workers from using the internet as a safe avenue of communication.

“Sex work is precarious by nature,” Lothian told The Black Explosion. “This law has made it so sex workers are forced into the shadows. And more shadows just means more danger, especially for people who are marginalized in multiple identities.