Courtesy Chimura Griffin. 

‘My Baby Was Really Loved’: A Mother and Community Mourn De’janay Stanton

De’janay Stanton was just getting started when the 24-year-old Chicagoan was fatally shot in August.

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Nov 19 2018, 11:14pm

Courtesy Chimura Griffin. 

At least 22 transgender Americans were killed in 2018. In honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance, read all of their stories here.

“I Pray That Aug, Sept, Oct, November & December Are All Months Full Of Growth, Blessings, Productivity, New Doors Opening & Opportunities,” wrote 24-year-old De’janay Lenorra Stanton on Facebook on August 1, 2018.

Later that month, De’janay’s mother, Valerie Griffin, was scrolling through Instagram when she saw something that made her pause: a post from someone warning followers to “check on your people.” A young woman with red hair and yellow nails had just been shot dead, they said.

“When I heard them say red hair and yellow fingernails and I looked to the side [of the Instagram photo] and seen her car, I said ‘Oh my god that's my baby,” said Griffin.

De’janay was found in an alley at 40th Street and King Drive in Bronzeville, Chicago, with a gunshot wound to the head in the late morning of August 30. She was then transported to Stroger Hospital where she was pronounced dead. She was the 18th known transgender person killed in the US in 2018, and one of 16 who was shot to death.

Three months after her death, De’Janay’s Facebook, now set up as a memorial account, continues to receive posts from friends and loved ones sharing memories of her multiple times a day. Recent posts read, “Was just thinking about you Pooh,” and “It’s Not A Day Go By That I Don’t Think Or Miss You De'janay Lanorra Always And Forever My Pooh #LLDADA.” Since her death, people honoring De’janay have used the hashtags #LLDADA and #LLD, which stand for “Long Live De’janay.”

Loved ones also set up a Facebook group dedicated to De’janay’s memory, which has accumulated more than 200 posts in the last 30 days. And the day after her death, over 100 people attended a candlelight vigil in her name.

Griffin remembers just how much the turn-out at her daughter’s vigil moved her. “That was beautiful. That made me feel so good,” she said. “That gave me a whole lot of comfort because I didn't know that she was loved like that, I really didn't know. I knew people loved her, that people liked to be around her, but that right there, it did something to me. It does something to me to know that my baby was really loved.”

De’janay was close with her mother, who she lived with until her death. “Very few people in our community have a very close relationship with their family members, and she was one,” said LaSaia Wade, activist and founder of Brave Space Alliance, a Black-led, trans-led LGBTQ Center in the South Side of Chicago. “Her mother deeply loved her.”

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Courtesy of Chimera Griffin.

Wade knew De’janay, who often went by “Dada” or “Deja,” through advocacy work. At different points in her life, De’janay had been on both the receiving and giving side of help through organizations that serve trans women, like Brave Space Alliance. In her advocacy, Wade said De’janay was particularly focused on helping trans women gain access to professional resources, like workplace professionalism training and resume writing assistance.

Griffin says De’janay wanted to be a lawyer and was preparing to go back to school. “She wanted to make a difference,” explained Griffin.

Despite her ambitious dreams, the 24-year-old always intended to stay close to her mom. “She said, ‘Ma, I’mma get me a place, but I'm gonna live here,’” recalled Griffin.

“I was her protector,” said Griffin, who noticed De’janay beginning to socially transition around the age of 11. After that, she said she went to bat for her daughter at her school, like when she wasn’t allowed to use the girl’s restroom or wear a girl’s ROTC uniform, or, as she says, “every time when there was a problem with her being who she was, De’janay.”

“When she was three years old she asked me why God didn't make her a girl.”

De’Janay never actually came out to her mom, because she didn’t have to. “She never sat down and had a conversation with me about nothing because she already knew that I already knew,” said Griffin. “When she was three years old she asked me why God didn't make her a girl.”

Beyond her magnetism, De’janay was known for her sense of style, usually long hair and acrylic nails, which are frequently referenced in posts memorializing her on her social media. “The girl could dress,” said Wade, “You didn’t know De’janay if you didn’t see her with 27 inches of hair and her nails on.”

Transgender women face considerably high rates of violence in comparison to cisgender women, though that risk is even higher for trans women of color like De’janay. According to the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), “More than one in four trans people has faced a bias-driven assault, and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color.” A study by the NCTE found that Black and Latina transgender women are nearly four times as likely than white transgender women to report that they had been attacked with a gun. According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign and the Trans People of Color Coalition, “For many transgender women of color, the threat of violence is constant.”

As of publishing, De’janay Stanton’s case has not been solved. A little over a month after her killing, 31-year-old Ciara Minaj Carter Frazier was fatally stabbed in the West Side of Chicago. No suspects have been charged in either case, and some local activists, like Wade, have grown frustrated with the Chicago Police Department (CPD), who they believe have not done their due diligence in investigating De’janay and Ciara’s deaths.

"I'm gonna get justice for her. She will be heard through me.”

On October 25, friends and family of De’janay and Ciara, along with LGBTQ activists, held a rally outside of the Chicago Police Headquarters, urging police to dedicate more time and resources to solving their murders and taking cases of trans women of color more seriously. Their demands included hiring more detectives to both cases, hiring a Black trans woman on the city’s Civilian Office of Police Accountability, and in general creating more resources for trans Chicagoans. “We're done, we're tired, we're tired of not getting talked about,” said Wade, the organizer of the event. “Our lives are on the line."

At the rally, Griffin gave a speech on behalf of her daughter. “Trans lives matter,” she told the crowd. “We need to hold [the killers] accountable, the city accountable. And we just need to realize that trans people … are just like all the rest of us.”

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“We take every single act of violence in Chicago very seriously, and no matter the crime, every reported offense is thoroughly investigated by CPD officers and detectives,” CPD spokesman Anthony Guglielmi told the Chicago Sun Times. “We even have dedicated outreach units to better communicate and serve our LGBTQ communities, which for too long we’ve under recognized.”

Griffin is doing the best she can in the wake of her daughter’s death. She often has trouble sleeping, and will wake up in the middle of the night to go sit in De’janay’s room. But she’s found some solace in her newfound public advocacy for Black trans women, something she hopes to continue. “We're going to get justice for all these girls that [the police] just don't pay attention to. We are definitely going to get justice for De’janay Lenorra Stanton. I'm gonna get justice for her,” she says. “She will be heard through me.”