By Jacqui Tackett
Riah Milton was a “joy to be around.”
Riah Milton was a loving sister.
Riah Milton was a loving aunt.
Riah Milton was a “unique and beautiful soul.”
Riah Milton was a helper who gave back to her community.
Riah Milton was a dedicated home health aide.
Riah Milton was a student at the University of Cincinnati.
Riah Milton was loving.
Riah Milton was caring.
Riah Milton was joyful.
Riah Milton was a devoted friend.
Riah Milton loved traveling.
Riah Milton loved going outdoors.
Riah Milton was helpful.
Riah Milton was considerate of others.
Riah Milton was outgoing.
Riah Milton was “never…scared to struggle.”*
Riah Milton was a woman who was taken too early from this world at the age of 25 in Liberty Township, Ohio, not too far from here in Cincinnati, Ohio.
She was a woman who, like so many a part of the black trans community, met her last moments of life with violence. To add more tragedy and horror to her last moments, the Butler County police and The Enquirer misgendered and deadnamed her while reporting on her case. The Sheriff of Butler County even stated, while misgendering Milton, that her death was not a result of a hate crime, but a result of robbery, even though the third assailant is still at large, according to the Enquirer.
How can a Sheriff definitively claim such a statement when the investigation isn’t over, and especially when the facts are appalling for people in the trans community, especially for people of color?
According to Mic.com, hate crimes against people in the trans community are often underreported due to the lack of laws protecting LGBTQ+ rights and inconsistent tracking within government agencies, which often leaves LGBTQ+ organizations and activists to gather data. From 2010 to 2016, 111 people in the trans community were killed, and 72% of those people were black trans women and femmes. Reports from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) in November 2017 showed a marked increase in that 84% of people in the trans community who were murdered were people of color, and 80% were women. However, these estimates are likely to be much higher than the reports have indicated.
To put this into the context of Riah Milton’s murder, hate crime statutes of gender identity or sexual orientation do not exist in the state of Ohio. Statewide laws protecting employment, housing, and public accommodations also do not exist in the state of Ohio for people in the LGBTQ+ community, all of which perpetuate violence, discrimination, and hate crimes against people in the LGBTQ+ community.
Non-existent laws protecting LGBTQ+ rights and inconsistent tracking are some of the many reasons why when people a part of the trans community are killed, their deaths are underreported in the criminal justice system and in the media. And when their deaths are reported, they are often misgendered and deadnamed like Riah Milton was by the Butler County Police Department and The Enquirer. These reports too, often receive very little media attention and quickly fade into the background.
The Enquirer, since reporting on Riah Milton’s murder, included a note on the article where they misgendered and deadnamed her that “subsequent reports will identify Milton by her chosen gender and name.”
Even when reporters acknowledge their wrongdoings, they can’t even acknowledge their mistakes correctly.
All of these acts by the police and reporters disrespect Riah Milton, her family, her friends, and the LGBTQ+ community, who are all in mourning right now.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 15 people in the trans community have been killed so far this year, and there could be more people that have been killed due to under- and misreporting. Of the 15 people killed, 11 were people of color: Dominque “Rem’mie” Fells, Monika Diamond, Neulisa Luciano Ruiz (also known as Alexa), Yampi Méndez Arocho, Lexi, Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, Layla Pelaez Sánchez, Penélope Díaz Ramírez, Nina Pop, Tony McDade, and Riah Milton.
All of these people were family members, friends, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, coworkers, creators, poets, writers, sports fans, musicians, business owners, advocates, frontline workers, boxers, Youtubers, moms, men, women and most importantly the initial description: people.** People who were loved. People who will be missed.
Riah Milton’s sister, Ariel Mary Ann, tweeted that if you share any posts on social media about her sister to use the “hashtag #BlackTransLivesMatter and #SayHerName” and to “donate to a black girl’s GoFundMe, call out transphobia and anti-blackness in your spaces and communities,” so their voices can be heard.
This epidemic of violence against the trans community, especially people of color, has to stop. Demand your local and state politicians change the legislature to protect the rights of the trans community and LGBTQ+ community. Vote for politicians who are allies for the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. Spend your money at businesses that support the LGBTQ+ community and people of color. Better yet, spend your money at LGBTQ+ and BIPOC owned businesses. Demand your place of work write policies that protect LGBTQ+ rights. Stand up to family members and friends that perpetuate transphobia and anti-blackness, such as Ariel Mary Ann said.
We owe it to Riah Milton, to Dominque “Rem’mie” Fells, to Monika Diamond, to Neulisa Luciano Ruiz (also known as Alexa), to Yampi Méndez Arocho, to Lexi, to Serena Angelique Velázquez Ramos, to Layla Pelaez Sánchez, to Penélope Díaz Ramírez, to Nina Pop, to Tony McDade, to Dustin Parker, to Johanna Metzger, to Helle Jae O’Regan, to Jayne Thompson, and people in the trans community everywhere to demand action be taken and justice be served.
Show them that their stories and lives will not fade out into the background. Show them that their stories and lives matter.
*Note: All of these statements made about Riah Milton were gathered from MetroWeekly, WCPO Cincinnati, the Human Rights Campaign, USA Today, Elle
**Note: All of these statements were gathered from the Human Rights Campaign, Wikipedia, and Twitter.