On Nov. 5, Marquiisha Lawrence, a 28-year-old Black transgender woman whose passion was cooking, was fatally shot in her Greenville, S.C., home.
Her death marked a somber milestone: It was the 45th violent killing of a transgender or gender nonconforming person this year, according to the LGBTQ advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, which made 2021 the deadliest known year on record for transgender and nonbinary people. Since Lawrence’s death, the death of yet another trans woman has come to light — that of Jenny DeLeon in Tampa, according to the HRC.
“For the second year in a row, the trans community has seen a grim milestone: 2021 has become the deadliest year on record, just as 2020 was,” said Joni Madison, HRC’s interim president.
As the country prepares for Trans Day of Remembrance on Nov. 20 — which honors the memory of transgender people who were killed in acts of anti-trans violence — Madison said each name of a trans person who has been killed represents “a full, rich life that did not deserve to be cut short.”
“We must bring this epidemic of violence to an end,” she said.
Eboni SinKlair, Lawrence’s “trans mother,” or mentor in the community, met Lawrence several years ago at Aid Upstate, an HIV awareness and prevention nonprofit organization where SinKlair worked.
“She had an infectious smile,” SinKlair remembered of meeting Lawrence, or “Quii.” “You couldn’t not smile and laugh around her. She was funny, she was outgoing, she was very personable.”
When the duo met, Lawrence had just moved into her own place and loved to entertain, SinKlair said. “At the same time, she was broken by a lot of the things that happened in her past,” SinKlair added. “But she never let that hold her back from having a future.”
For Lawrence, entertaining often came in the form of cooking. Her motto, according to SinKlair, was: “If you feed the belly, you’ll feed the soul and the spirit.”
“When she cooked, she cooked,” SinKlair said. “Six or seven courses in one meal, not to mention dessert.”
The dish she most associates Lawrence with is beef stew, which she served with rice and loved to make because it was such a filling meal. At the time of her death, Lawrence was working at Bojangles, a fast-food restaurant, according to SinKlair.
Unlike some trans people who lose the support of their family when they come out or transition, Lawrence had the support of her mother, SinKlair said, adding that the two saw each other at the younger woman’s funeral on Sunday. (Lawrence’s biological mother could not be reached for comment.)
Since January 2013, more than 250 transgender and gender nonconforming people have been killed, two-thirds of whom have been Black women, the HRC said.
“I feel like the majority of the time it’s because we’re [trans women of color] not looked at as important as some of the other cases and a lot of times they feel like somehow it’s our fault,” she said. “They don’t look at our deaths as victims.”
SinKlair said that when it comes to trans women, particularly trans women of color, they’re particularly isolated by the lack of structural support and resources compared to others in the LGBTQ community.
“[This type of violence] doesn’t happen in the White community,” SinKlair said. “It doesn’t happen in the gay community. It doesn’t happen in a lesbian community. Again, it happens in that small minority group of Black trans women, because those are the only ones that do not have a backing or support. Allies are completely different from support.”
Lawrence was killed by a gunshot wound and her death was ruled a homicide, said Kent Dill, a spokesman for the Greenville County Coroner’s office. Lt. Ryan Flood, a spokesman for the Greenville Sheriff’s office, said there were multiple shots fired and that the police were called to the scene around 4:45 p.m. on Nov. 5.
For SinKlair, the timing of Lawrence’s death is even more tragic because she was really coming into her own and getting her look together with her skincare and hairstyle, she said.
Still, Lawrence was fortunate to have had support systems, SinKlair said. She had her biological family in her life as and made her own circle of loved ones as she transitioned — to mentor her about hormones and medical care.
As SinKlair put it: “We take on those different families, because it’s a learning process.”