HRC is deeply saddened to learn of the death of Helle Jae O’Regan, a 20-year-old transgender woman killed in San Antonio, Texas, on May 6. Her death is believed to be the at least 11th violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming person this year in the U.S., and the sixth known violent death in just over five weeks — all transgender women.
”For the past several weeks, we have learned of the violent deaths of transgender Americans at a rate that should be a shock and horror to every single person. We must all ask ourselves today: ‘What am I doing to ensure a world where a person’s gender identity is not a potential death sentence?’” said Tori Cooper, HRC Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. “The Human Rights Campaign is standing with Helle’s family and friends in mourning today. Her death further underscores the dire and urgent need to end violence and discrimination against transgender people — and especially against transgender women — now. ”
O’Regan was proud of her trans identity. On Trans Day of Visibility, she posted on Instagram: “I was looking at the pictures I used to take before I transitioned versus now and it made me realize I’m way happier than I used to be. I love myself now. Thank you to everyone who’s ever supported me and to anyone who hasn’t I hope you come around. I’m happy and proud to be myself.” On her Twitter, O’Regan often spoke out against injustice, including LGBTQ inequality, the prison industrial complex and the need to decriminalize sex work.
“Every time I saw her, she smiled. She’d do anything for you,” said Luke Tyler, a friend of Helle. “She was a caring person. I never saw her in a bad mood… Being trans is so hard, and her life was hard, but she lived like it was the best day of her life every day.”
O’Regan was fatally stabbed while working at her job, a local barbershop. Damion Terrell Campbell, 42, has been charged with O’Regan’s murder. According to reports, police currently believe this to be a random attack but are continuing their investigation into Campbell’s motive.
Emmett Schelling, Executive Director for the Transgender Education Network of Texas (TENT) stated, “We are saddened to hear of the news about Helle O’Regan’s death. Trans and non-binary Texans, unfortunately, lays claim to being the state with the highest number of reported murders of transgender people than any other state these past five years. The stigma that exists and is continued to be perpetuated from the highest held offices in our state only feeds into this. We mourn for Helle’s life being cut so prematurely, but take comfort in hearing how much joy she brought to those who knew, loved and accepted her fully as her authentic self.”
In November 2019, ahead of Transgender Day of Remembrance, HRC Foundation released “A National Epidemic: Fatal Anti-Transgender Violence in America in 2019,” a heartbreaking report honoring the trans people killed and detailing the contributing and motivating factors that lead to this tragic violence — a toxic mix of transphobia, racism and misogyny. Sadly, 2019 saw at least 26 transgender or gender non-conforming people fatally shot or killed by other violent means. We say at least because too often these stories go unreported — or misreported.
There are currently very few explicit federal legal protections for transgender or gender-expansive people. At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Texas are not explicitly protected in employment, housing or in public spaces. They are also not covered under the state’s hate crimes legislation. Nationally, despite some marginal gains in state and local policies that support and affirm transgender people, recent years have been marked by anti-LGBTQ attacks at all levels of government.
We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation appearing at the local, state and federal levels because it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive.
This epidemic of violence that disproportionately targets transgender people of color — particularly Black transgender women — must cease.
For more information about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit hrc.org/Transgender.
Photo via Instagram.