Gathering to honor murdered trans woman offers solace, hope


IN MEMORY | Carlicia Ford, sister of murdered trans woman Ty Underwood, speaks at a candlelight vigil in Underwoods memory this week in Tyler. (Photos courtesy Todd Whitely)


Todd Whitley  |  Special Contributor
I don’t understand. I admitted as much to the family, friends and others gathered at Bergfeld Park in Tyler to honor Ty “Nunee” Underwood. I just don’t understand the kind of senseless violence that has forced us, yet again, to gather in memory of someone taken from us unfairly.

And I got the sense that many of the people gathered there felt the same way, whether Ty Underwood died in a “hate crime” or not.

I watched as a diverse community came together, holding candles and wearing handmade nametags declaring “I Am Ty” — transgender and gay and straight, black and white and Latino, young and less so. They were all there to try and make sense of what had happened, to process their grief, to show support for Ty’s family and for the transgender community.

The first to arrive at the vigil was a young, gender-queer Latino student from the local community college who came alone, telling me, “I needed to be here.”

Later, I met a passel of gay and lesbian millennials who drove from Nacogdoches because they’d heard about the vigil and wanted to show their support. I chatted with several women who had worked with Ty at the nursing home, and they told me how joyful and smart Ty was and how the residents loved her.

Ty's-SisterI met several young, black, transgender women; one said she was scared but that she was encouraged that people were motivated by love to come to the vigil.

I watched a 7-year-old, freckle-faced boy named Isaac walk up to Ty’s grieving mother, hand her a bouquet of tulips and give her a hug.

I heard a queer minister tell the crowd, “I am incredibly moved to be here tonight because looking at Ty’s life from a distance, I can tell she lived her life authentically. I believe the way she lived her life tells us much about what it looks like to … be who God has created us to be. I want to encourage you tonight: Don’t let any church, don’t let any pastor, don’t let any religion tell you that you have to be anything other than what God has called you to be. God is right. They are not.”

The Rev. Jeff Hood, minister of social justice for Hope for Peace & Justice, then ended his remarks with an admonishment to pastors, priests and other religious leaders across Texas to “Do right by those who are different,” to “Stop persecuting people” and instead just love them.

Another faith leader, Cathedral of Hope Associate Pastor and straight ally the Rev. Mike Wright-Chapman reminded the group that “Ty and every person are God’s beloved children, designed by a God who values and delights in us in all our diversity.”

You could almost feel aching hearts beating together at this reassurance.

Yadi Martinez, Cathedral of Hope’s minister of youth, young adults and missions, called for increased solidarity with transgender people by the at-large gay community. “May the L, G, and B embrace our transgender brothers and sisters and together find equality for all,” she said.

My heart broke when I heard Ty’s siblings share memories of Ty, talk of the void they now felt because of her absence and of their very real hope for swift justice.

And I heard a prominent statewide transgender voice — Transgender Education Network of Texas Director Michelle Stafford — remind us all that we have a responsibility to honor Ty’s memory and a responsibility to “love those around us” instead of reacting in kind.

Stafford left us with this thought: “Family, friends, transgender community and allies — hate is the enemy. Love is the answer.”

By the time I spoke at the gathering, a damp drizzle had covered the park. I looked out across the diverse crowd that wrapped around Ty’s family like a warm quilt, lovingly pieced together from disparate pieces of fabric.

I saw young children, oddly still, as if soaking in every word. I saw straight allies, young gender-queer students, lesbians and gay men. I saw lots of white people.

I reminded them all of the words on the tags we wore: We are all Ty: Young Isaac, Artimus from Nacogdoches, Chantal, me, each one of the people present in that very moment.

Briefly, we were one.

There is so much about the murders of Ty and other transgender people I will likely never understand. But bearing witness to so much love and solidarity amid the palpable grief and anger and sorrow, I understood with greater clarity my own purpose and also the source of my hope.

If we as a community strive more diligently to follow the model of this group of people — embracing everyone regardless of our differences, standing for one another, recognizing that divine spark within each human soul — perhaps some day, no one will dare bring harm to anyone in our family for any reason, particularly because of whom we love or how we express our gender.
I am Ty. We all are.


Investigation continues into trans woman’s murder


Ty Underwood, a 24-year-old transgender woman murdered Jan. 26 in Tyler, was memorialized Wednesday night, Feb. 4, at a gathering in Bergfeld Park in Tyler as Tyler police continued their investigation into the woman’s shooting.

Tyler Police Department Public Information Officer Don Martin said Tuesday, Feb. 3, that police there do have leads they are investigating, but had no new information they could release at the time. “There are some things coming up, and if those things come through, we hope to be able to make an announcement” soon, Martin said.

Underwood’s friends and family have said they believe her murder was an anti-trans hate crime, although police have so far not designated it as such. Anyone with information about the case is asked to call the Tyler Police Department at 903-531-1000 or Tyler-Smith County Crime Stoppers at 903-597-2833.

Underwood worked at a nursing home, and friends and family members said she planned to go back to school to become a nurse. She died early Monday morning, Jan. 26.

Police said a woman called police to report the accident, saying her children had heard gunshots, after Underwood’s car crashed into a telephone pole in the 400 block of West 24th Street in Tyler. Police said they believe Underwood was trying to escape in her car after being shot when the accident occurred.

Underwood died at the scene. She was originally from Lufkin, and funeral services were held Saturday, Jan. 31, at Woods Memorial Chapel Church of God in Christ in Lufkin, under the direction of Colonial Mortuary and Cremation Services. Underwood was cremated.

— Tammye Nash

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition February 6, 2015.