A statewide advocacy group is speaking out about the increasing number of transgender women of color disproportionately affected by gun violence.
CeaseFirePA is the largest grassroots organization in the state working to prevent gun violence. Michael Cogbill, community organizer for the Philadelphia office, is leading the group’s efforts to raise awareness about the “most vulnerable population of gun-violence victims.”
“CeaseFirePA is stepping into communities that are heavily affected by gun violence, including the trans community. We’ve been increasingly visible in LGBTQ spaces advocating for trans people, specifically trans women of color,” Cogbill said. “I’ve adjusted my advocacy efforts to educate the community on trans-panic violence, while pointing out a trend that I don’t think many people outside the community realize is becoming a serious issue.”
A single poster in the group’s Philadelphia office hangs on the wall with 11 names written in black letters across a white background. Nizah Morris, Gucci, Erika Keels, Stacey Blahnik, Kyra Cordova, Diamond Williams, Keisha Jenkins, Maya Young, London Chanel, Sean Ryan Hake and Andi Woodhouse were the victims of gun violence in Pennsylvania over the last 15 years. A third of these victims were trans women of color, one of the most vulnerable populations that is also disproportionately affected by gun violence, said Cogbill.
“Trans women of color are dying at alarming rates and no one seems to be talking about it. We’re doing all that we can to help the trans community and other marginalized communities stand up and advocate for themselves when it comes to gun-control policies,” he said.
Rhona Gerber, CeaseFirePA’s director of development, said the group provides the public with tools to advocate for “common-sense gun control.”
“We teach people how to be advocates, how to effect changes in gun policies and how to reach out to their legislators,” she said. "There’s a widespread belief that only experts, people in positions of power or those who have a lot of money can affect policy. Through the CeaseFire Pennsylvania Education Fund, we’re educating citizens about the power of their voice when it comes to fighting gun violence.”
The Human Rights Campaign, the national LGBTQ civil-rights advocacy group, released a report last November stating that 84 percent of trans victims of fatal gun violence in 2017 were people of color. Last month, The Advocate reported that 18 homicides of trans Americans had been reported so far this year. More than half of those victims were trans women of color.
Cogbill became interested in joining the cause after working at the 12th Street Air Command, now known as iCandy, and seeing firsthand the violence against trans women of color. He convinced CeaseFirePA to participate for the first time in Mazzoni Center’s Trans Wellness Conference last month. There, he learned about the use of pronouns and nonbinary identities.
“I now incorporate asking for preferred pronouns during organizing events,” Cogbill said, adding that the conference taught him awareness and sensitivity.
CeaseFirePA will take part in the annual Philadelphia Trans March in October.