UPDATED: Trans Woman of Color Yazmin Vash Payne Murdered Near Los Angeles

Note: this post has been updated to reflect the preferred name of the victim. Her name is Yazmin Vash Payne. She had previously been identified as Michell Vash Payne and alternately as Yasmine Payne. Some media outlets have posted her old name, but we will not do that. If you have photos of Yazmin, please contact us.

Saturday morning, the body of Yazmin Vash Payne  was found dead of multiple stab wounds when LA firefighters responded to a fire at her residence. Original reports offered conflicting information on Payne’s identity. She was 33 years old. From KTLA:

Firefighters responded about 5:06 a.m. to the two-story structure in the 14600 block of Saticoy Street (map), where they entered an apartment unit and “quickly extinguished” the flames, Los Angeles Fire Department spokesman Erik Scottsaid on Twitter. 

A woman’s body was discovered with possible stab wounds, said Officer Rosario Herrera of the Los Angeles Police Department.The victim was later described as a black man in a LAPD news release.One neighbor told KTLA the person was transgender.

The identity of the victim had not yet been released until this morning, nor the identity of the suspect. Trans activists have organized a vigil for Sunday evening at 6 PM in Van Nuys. They invoke the spirit of “Ni Una Mas!” a growing movement of art against violence – claiming a space for how victims of violence are acknowledged in public discourse.

Vigil for Yasmine Payne

That’s particularly relevant as we waited for confirmation on the true identity of the victim. Meanwhile, the identity of another recent victim of violence – known as Edwards – remains in dispute; they were identified as a gay male who occasionally performed drag and also as a transgender woman. And it is real and important that we invest the time & resources to be accurate and fair in this reporting – for two reasons.

First, it is a matter of respect and accuracy for the victim and their community.

Second, it is critical to understand the multitude of ways in which violence threatens our communities. When we say #BlackLivesMatter, that should include Candra Keels as well as Lamia Beard. And Edwards.  The intimate partner violence (domestic violence) that left Candra dying in the street at 20 years of age, stabbed by her girlfriend is as critical to properly contextualize as the conflicting reports about how/why Edwards was killed. Both are connected to the execution of Lamia in the streets of Norfolk, presumably not by an intimate partner.

I’m doing my best to find accurate information about ALL of the queer people of color whose violent deaths were reported in January. Five people died – 2 known to be transgender, 1 known to be a lesbian of color, and 2 whose identities are not yet known. The lesbian was killed by her female partner, while we have reports that the individual murdered yesterday in Van Nuys was also stabbed by their partner. That’s a red flag to me that examining intimate partner violence is really important. I am sure there are critical distinctions between the experiences of cis gender survivors and trans gender survivors, but it has to matter that at least 40% of these deaths during January are related to domestic violence.

It is also very important to acknowledge that even in death we struggle to confirm the identity of our trans siblings. It isn’t a matter of being able to ask them. In Pittsburgh, it took two weeks for us to learn that the death by suicide of a new neighbor involved a transgender man. Two weeks until anyone knew that critical fact and it came to light in a very roundabout way.  The complicated process of simply acknowledging the real lived identity of the victim reflects on some of the larger issues our trans siblings experience every day. I mean – who decides? Of course, the person should decide. That’s imperative and the filters of the perspective of people who knew them does prevent us from that core, essential truth – no matter how well intended.

And THAT brings to light the issue we always wrestle with – family acceptance and rejection. Lamia Beard’s family gave a heartfelt interview to Alternet validating her identity, but she was eulogized and buried under her old name for what remains unclarified “legal reasons.”  I am acutely aware of the trauma it may inflict on readers to encounter that seeming contradiction when for example the family is asking for support to pay for funeral expenses. I was glad to see the Alternet story dive into their more robust story.

Finally, the lack of clarity creates reporting like this from CBS

Officers originally reported the victim was a woman, however, the LAPD confirmed this morning that the victim is transgender.

This is in addition to the typical misgendering in the report which reported her old name and referring to her as “the Payne’s” (I really hope that’s a typo, not a suggestion that she is multiple people?)

So, I honestly don’t know if our neighbor in Van Nuys is the 3rd or 4th trans woman of color to die a violent death in January 2015.  I will continue to follow the story and provide details as they become available.

Rest in power, Yasmin.  Your life matters to us and your death will not go acknowledged.

According to detectives, they were able to recover the murder weapon at the scene, but have not detained a person of interest who is believed to be Payne’s boyfriend.

He is described as a black man in his mid 20s that stands about 5-foot-8 tall, and weighs 150 pounds, detectives explained.

Anyone with information was asked to contact the Van Nuys detective desk at 818-374-0040. After-hours calls could be made to 818-374-1999.

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