Riah Milton, a 25-year-old transgender woman, was shot dead in Liberty Township on June 9. According to the Butler County Sheriff’s Office, two subjects involved in the killing have been apprehended and charged. The third, 25-year-old Tyree Jeffery Cross, remains at large.
Milton’s death has gone viral, chants to #sayhername expanding far beyond Cincinnati.
On June 12, her sister Ariel Mary Ann posted a statement on Twitter, saying that the death of Milton has been completely heartbreaking and left her “emotionally and mentally tired.” She noted that seeing news outlets misgender and deadname her sister “was like seeing someone just wipe her existence clean away.”
Thank you..... pic.twitter.com/rofPj5LUsZ— The Little Transsexual Mermaid 🧜🏿♀️🏳️⚧️ (@ABlackMermaid_) June 12, 2020
Deadnaming refers to when a transgender individual is called by their birth name; misgendering means language that doesn’t align with one’s affirmed gender.
Advocates called for news outlets — including Local12, WCPO, WLWT, Fox19 and The Cincinnati Enquirer — to correct Milton’s name and gender. A Google Doc created by locals Caroline Lembright and Hannah Duckworth compiled a list of articles that deadnamed Milton, as well as resources for readers to support her and her family. Also included was a script written by Eden Estes, a friend of Ariel Mary Ann, to be sent to public officials.
Many of the articles have since been updated, with the Enquirer adding an editor’s note to their original story stating that it was written based upon initial police reports that “didn’t clearly identify Milton’s gender.” Further reporting, the note said, will use Milton’s correct name and gender pronouns. (As of June 13, Local12’s article still uses Milton’s deadname.)
It should be noted that the AP Stylebook advises journalists to use “the pronoun consistent with the way individuals live publicly.” Once notified of using incorrect names/pronouns, outlets should make corrections so that the individual may be portrayed accurately.
A GoFundMe organized by Ariel Mary Ann raised $44,800 — far surpassing its goal of $3,500. The funds will go toward funeral costs and whatever is leftover will be given to various organizations. While the GoFundMe is no longer accepting donations, Ariel Mary Ann asked via tweet that additional donations go instead to The Okra Project: “a 100 percent grassroots, organizer-led initiative with the goal of combating food insecurity in the Black Trans/GNC community.”
Investigators have cited that Milton was shot and killed during a robbery, having been “lured” by an unnamed 14-year-old girl and two men (Cross and Kaleb Marshall Tooson, the latter of whom was arrested) to Liberty Township in an effort to steal her car.
In a press conference, Butler County Sheriff Richard K. Jones was asked if Milton was targeted as a transgender woman. To which he replied, “No. Absolutely not.”
In the same sentence, Jones continued to use incorrect pronouns regarding Milton, despite being notified otherwise.
According to the Human Rights Campaign, 2019 saw the deaths of at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people in the United States due to violence, the majority of whom were Black. Milton’s death is believed to be at least the 14th in 2020.
Also on June 9 was the death of another Black transgender woman — Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells of Philadelphia. Tweets calling to say Fells’ and Milton’s names went viral, accompanied by hashtags #RestinPower #BlackLivesMatter #BlackTransLivesMatter.
“Black Trans Lives Matter,” said Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign's director of community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, in a statement. “In the same week countless people across the globe stand up for racial injustice, in the same week we honor the 49 victims of the Pulse massacre in Orlando, in the same week a billionaire author spouts transphobic rhetoric to millions — in this same week, we have lost two more Black transgender women to the same fate most of us worry about every day. Say their names. Dominique 'Rem'mie' Fells. Dominique 'Rem'mie' Fells. Dominique 'Rem'mie' Fells. Riah Milton. Riah Milton. Riah Milton. Continue to say the names of every transgender and gender non-conforming person stolen from this Earth. Don't wait until we are all gone to speak up. This fight belongs to us all.”
Several public officials, including Senators Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, brought light to the issue.
“The murder of Black trans women is a crisis,” Warren tweeted. “Say their names: Dominique ‘Rem’mie’ Fells and Riah Milton.”
The murder of Black trans women is a crisis.— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) June 12, 2020
Say their names: Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells and Riah Milton. https://t.co/j5USadR2CS
Harris tweeted, "Black Trans Lives Matter."
Black Trans Lives Matter.https://t.co/EDr3lHZCAi— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) June 12, 2020
In her twitter statement, Ariel Mary Ann cited lyrics from the Broadway production Hadestown — “It’s a sad song but we sing it anyway.”
Ariel Mary Ann continued on, asking followers to keep singing this song.
“Please keep uplifting the voices of Black trans women.”