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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Brandy Martell's Unsolved Murder Continues to Ignite the Fight for Trans Justice

Posted By on Tue, Aug 21, 2012 at 11:08 AM


It has been roughly five months since the murder of Brandy Martell. Martell was a trans woman who worked for Tri-City Health Center as a peer advocate. On April 29, 2012 at 5:30 a.m., Martell was gunned down on a street corner in Oakland. Martell's assailant shot her in her genitals before he shot her twice more in the torso, and he is still at large. Tiffany Woods, Martell's boss at Tri-City, has been actively working with police and politicians to see what can be done not just about Martell, but with all the violence trans people face each and every day.

Since the murder of Martell, Woods had a meeting in Mayor Jean Quan's office in Oakland with all the key players. "At the table was myself, Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, Oakland Chief of Police Howard Jordan, Deputy Chief Anthony Toribio, the Deputy Fire Chief, the lead investigator of Brandy's homicide case, Officer Baker, and spokesperson Johnna Watson of Oakland P.D."

They had a very productive meeting, with everyone agreeing that this crime was a horrible and senseless one. Oakland P.D. has made it a "Priority One" investigation. The problem with solving Martell's murder is not lack of interest, but the amount of homicides that have occurred this year in Oakland. Martell was the 47th murder in Oakland this year, and four months later, that number has gone up to 70.

However, Woods was clear that the meeting wasn't all bleak. "What will come out of [the meeting] is the reinstating of the Oakland Police Department and members of the LGBQT community meeting monthly. Johnna Watson of Oakland P.D. will be leading it, and I will also be a part of it. We will be working on issues specifically relating to the LGBQT community," said Woods. "Oakland P.D. and the city of Oakland look forward to communicating and working together with the LGBQT community," said Officer Watson. The first meeting is set for early September.

Tiffany Woods, center, at Trans March 2012
  • Tiffany Woods, center, at Trans March 2012
Tiffany Woods, center, at Trans March 2012

The shock and horror of Martell's death has reignited a fuse that already burns bright when it comes to crimes against the transgender community. Woods has also been active campaigning on Martell's behalf outside of the Bay Area. The "Say no to hate" posters of Martell are a voice all of their own.

click to enlarge Martell remembrance posters
  • Martell remembrance posters
Martell remembrance posters

"We have given out over 2,000 of them to date. It wasn't widely reported, but the Trans March last June in San Francisco was in memory of Brandy. We handed out 300 posters on the day of the Trans March. People told me they saw posters all over the city," said Woods. "They are now in Chicago, Washington D.C., India, Peru, Argentina, and Brazil. I gave them to other international trans activists to keep the word out against violence and hatred. Another young trans woman, 19-year-old Tiffany Gooden, was recently murdered in Chicago. The violence still continues, and we must try to stop it."

The yearly Transgender Day of Remembrance is coming up soon, on November 20. Tri-City is planning to commemorate the day on November 16. It will be in Oakland, and the location will be disclosed closer to the date. Martell used to help with this event, and it is deeply sobering to think that her name will be read off this year as one to be remembered.

Unsurprisingly, Martell's murder has also greatly affected the African-American trans community of Oakland. Some trans ladies in their late 20s and 30s have a hard time even going near the site Martell was murdered. The trans women who work with Woods have shared with her how traumatized they are by this crime. They feel like they are either going to die of AIDS or get shot and killed and nobody will care.

The perception that no one cares about trans women is still very much engrained in our society. To tell you the truth, I can't really blame them for feeling that way. Trans people face an unconscionable amount of adversity, hate crimes, and discrimination. This tells me that we need more education, starting in elementary schools. Being differently gendered should not equate to living a life in constant fear of harassment or violence.

Martell's murder sparked a lot of debate, but it also sparked many important conversations about trans rights. Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett adjourned a session in memory of Martell on May 7. The Oakland City Council did the same, and so did the Berkeley City Council. This is one of the few times in California history that a trans woman has ever been remembered in the capitol. While alive, Martell was someone who gave back to her community. As cruel as her death was, it has provided a huge sense of awareness to the outside world. Wherever Martell is, I hope she continues to smile, knowing that her humanitarian endeavors carry over even in death.

As for the Martell murder case, it is still open and active, and Oakland P.D. is encouraging anyone in the community who may have heard or seen something to please contact the major crimes unit at (510) 238-3821.

Vanessa L. Pinto (aka Fleur De Lis SF) documented a year of her sex life on her blog Whatever You Desire. She also blogs for the Huffington Post and is a contributing writer with Whore! Magazine. She has a degree in political science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

Follow us on Twitter at @ExhibitionistSF and like us on Facebook.

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