Her name was Shanique Saunders.
She was 23 years old and a resident of Homestead. Wednesday afternoon, she became the latest fatality in the epidemic of violence when her body was found at 1:45 PM on McKinley Street in the Knoxville neighborhood of Pittsburgh. She had been shot at least one time when she was found and transported to UPMC Mercy where she later died.
Shanique used the name Loyalty Fashigg in social media and self-identified as a stud, according to local LGBT activist Amber Sloan who was a friend and mentor to Shanique. Amber told me that Shanique was born in Garfield, grew up in Homewood and was a graduate of Westinghouse High School.
Amber has been talking for a long time about the lack of resources and supports for young studs in Pittsburgh as well as the increasing incidents of harassment and violence. There is no organization or programming specifically tailored to the needs of this young community and a lack of cultural competency winds around the existing youth programming. Amber is the founder and organizers of M.A.D.E. I.T. (Making Alternative Decisions Effectively Impacting Teens)
In 2013, several stud identified women were targets of an assault at the former Margaritaville bar on the South Side, generating a call for the City’s public safety and nightlife coordinators to demonstrate more competency and understanding about gender and racial dynamics when responding to these situation. Throwing everyone out of the bar just puts the victims at further risk.
This past October, a 15 year old student at Carrick High School named Sammyah Turner and her mother claimed that Sammyah was turned away from her homecoming dance in part due to her masculine style attired. The school vigorously disputes the allegations with the principal claiming her feelings were hurt and bring gay identified students to the table to talk with the media. There was zero attention on the needs and lived experiences of studs in the Pittsburgh Public Schools OR the ways in which those experiences contribute to their academic and behavior records.
What we do end up with is an equation that reduces young queer women of color to a byproduct of their so-called choices – the choose to misbehave and lose privileges, they choose to stand up to men harassing their femme friends in bars and get assaulted, they choose to be involved with people connected to drugs and get shot in the street in the middle of the afternoon.
While we choose to diminish their experiences and reframe their deaths in a racist narrative that absolves of any accountability for this epidemic and the particular manifestation of misogynoir in the queer and trans community. More on that later.
Since 2013, we have lost at least FIVE young QTPOC to gun violence in Pittsburgh. Two of them must remain nameless because one was a minor whose family has not consented to the disclosure and the other was not fully out. I must also add that we recently lost a QTPOC to gun violence in nearby Cannonsburgh with the murder of Dalia Sabae by her husband. I’m sure there are more.
SIX is an epidemic, Pittsburgh.
- Omar Islam, 21, October 2013.
- Andre Gray, 33, October 2014
- Unnamed individual, 33, 2014
- Unnamed individual, under 18, 2016
- Dalia Sabae, 28, November 2016
- Shanique Saunders, 23, November 2016
According to Public Source, 85% of all homicides in the City of Pittsburgh between 2010 and 2015 had a black victim. The majority of those crimes are not solved. With regard to the five QTPOC I referenced, there have been convictions or charges filed in four of the five. But how many other members of our community go unnoticed in this avalanche of data because we never know their true identity? Obviously in Dalia’s case there will be no conviction because her murdered also took his own life.
We have to do better. We have to listen to 15 year olds describing an educational experience that is hampered by peer response to their stud identity and do something, not allow the schools to rest on their laurels meeting the needs of other LGBTQ students. We have to invest in programs led by people like Amber Sloan and other studs to provide resources and opportunities for our young sisters so they have choices and options and access to the privileges we often take for granted. We have to raise the bar for cultural competency among all providers serving LGBTQ youth and affirm with certainty that they are truly safe and welcoming spaces for stud identified young women. More on that later.
I will update you on the final arrangements for Shanique as well as the investigation into her death.
Reports indicate five or six people running away from Shanique while she lay dying on the street. Anyone who has information is asked to call Pittsburgh police at 412-323-7161. Callers may remain anonymous.
Rest in power, Shanique. You were loved by so many and deserved to live your life to the fullest. We will continue to say your name and seek justice for your death.
*This post has been updated to correct Shanique’s surname which is Saunders. We had previously reported her name as Sanders.