Black Gender Nonconforming Teen Shot to Death in Alabama

Bella Jaheim Pugh
Photo via Facebook.

This is complicated story about identity, but it is a story that must be shared within that complexity because it also reflects the consequences of intolerance and hate in our society. The victim who was murdered in this story was a 19 year old young adult who was identified by friends as using both he/him and she/her pronouns but referred to by other friends and family as male. They identified on their social media profiles as Jaheim, but close friends said they also went by Bella. Most people confirmed she identified as part of the LGBTQ community. We are using the term gender nonconforming that does fall under the trans umbrella and is based on what we know so far about Bella.

What we do know is that they were murdered for appearing in public as female, dressing en femme. Early Sunday, December 13, 2020, gunfire erupted at a Christmas party in a private home in Prichard, Alabama, claiming the life of 19-year-old Bella and injuring two others. A suspect has turned himself in to the police and is facing murder charges as well as two counts of second degree assault. According to police and court documents, the suspect was out on bond following another shooting that occurred earlier this year.

Bella went to the party wearing the rainbow jumpsuit shown in the photo above. According to the family, a Facebook live taken after the shooting showed Bella on the floor without any assistance while those standing nearby were recording. Like she was a deflated party decoration rather than than a human being. That callous disregard for the life of other people is stunning. And to post a live showing this? Who does that?

Someone who apparently said on-screen “If he wasn’t wearing that dress he would still be alive” according to Tiffany Pugh. I did see a brief snippet of video of Bella dancing with the caption “that’s a guy” and many emoticons.

I do not normally use deadnames or misgender people, much less repeatedly switch pronouns in a memorial blog post. But it is important to understand that Bella’s identity was not crystalized in a public way and to honor the fact that her parents and siblings do seem to understand that telling her not to wear dresses was not the solution to the ignorance that fueled her murder. And to remind ourselves that for some people, anyone they perceive as “man in a dress” does deserve to be demeaned and even killed.

Jaheim’s dad, Antonio Ruggs, says he never thought he would have to bury his son.

“Love your kids for who they are. Because you know one day they could be here, the next day they can be gone,” Ruggs said. via MyNBC15

Her son’s death is now fueling a fight for justice for people just like him.

“He wanted to be him, he said, ‘I just wanna be me momma. I just wanna be me,’ is what he said and I support him.” via Fox 10

Pugh said her son identified as both a man and a woman. via Fox 10

Born and raised in Prichard, Bella graduated from Davidson High School. Her social media feeds are filled with fandom, fun photos, and lively back and forths with her friends. She was robbed of her life far too young and then denied basic human decency and dignity in their final moments. It is beyond horrible and an affront to everything that is good in our society. She was a kid. She deserved the time to grow into her full adult identity.

I haven’t watched the video, but just the fact that it exists breaks my heart. Bella’s family wants this prosecuted as a hate crime, but Alabama does not have protections in their hate crimes law for sexual orientation or gender identity, or gender expression.

Bella is at least the 42nd victim of this epidemic of transphobic violence engulfing the nation. She is one of 17 victims age 25 or younger and at age 19, tied for the second youngest person on this list. She is the 27th Black neighbor on this list for 2020.

Rest in power, Bella. I hope somewhere you know that a young woman in a nearby town read about your death and wants to make sure you are not forgotten, that your story isn’t lost. Your life and death had an impact on her and so many people who grieve you deeply. Your parents and extended family celebrated your life as you wished. You deserved many years to grow up and grow old, to embrace life with gusto and appreciation. You deserved better. I hope your family’s determination to see justice for you and other families will be the lasting tribute that you do deserve. I am so sorry.

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My list of transgender, gender non-conforming, and non-binary neighbors who have lost their lives to violent deaths in the US during 2020.

  1. Dustin Parker – McAlester, Oklahoma. January 1, 2020. Age 25.
  2. Alexa Negron Luciano – Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. February 24, 2020. Age 29.
  3. Yampi Mendez Arocho – Moca, Puerto Rico, March 5, 2020. Age 19.
  4. Monica Diamond – Charlotte, North Carolina. March 18, 2020. Age 34.
  5. Lexi – Harlem, New York City, New York. March 28, 2020. Age 33.
  6. Johanna Metzger – Baltimore, Maryland. April 1, 2020. Age 25.
  7. Serena Angelique Velazquezz – Puerto Rico. April 22, 2020. Age 32.
  8. Layla Pelaez – Puerto Rico. April 22, 2020. Age 21.
  9. Penélope Díaz Ramírez – Puerto Rico. April 13, 2020. Age 31
  10. Nina Pop – Sikeston, Missouri. May 3, 2020. Age 28.
  11. Helle Jae O’Regan – San Antonio, Texas. May 6, 2020. Age 20.
  12. Tony McDade – Tallahassee, Florida. May 27, 2020. Age 38.
  13. Dominique Rem’mie Fells – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. June 8, 2020. Age 27.
  14. Riah Milton – Liberty Township, Ohio. June 9, 2020. Age 25.
  15. Selena Reyes Hernandez – Chicago. May 31, 2020. Age 37.
  16. Brayla Stone – Sherwood, Arkansas. June 25, 2020. Age 17.
  17. Merci Mack – Dallas, June 30, 2020. Age 22.
  18. Jayne Thompson – Colorado, May 2020. Age 33.
  19. Bree Black – Pompana Beach, Florida, July 3, 2020. Age 27.
  20. Draya McCarty – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 2020. Age unknown.
  21. Shaki Peters – Amite, Louisiana, July 1, 2020. Age 32.
  22. Marilyn Cazares – Brawley, California, July 13, 2020. Age 22.
  23. Tatiana Hall – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, approx June 29, 2020. Age 22.
  24. Queasha Hardy – Baton Rouge, Louisiana, July 27, 2020. Age 24.
  25. Tiffany Harris – Bronx, New York, July 26, 2020. Age 32.
  26. Aja Raquell Rhone-Spears – Portland, Oregon, July 28, 2020. Age 32.
  27. Aerrion Burnett – Independence, Missouri, September 19, 2020. Age 37.
  28. Mia Green – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, September 28, 2020. Age 29.
  29. Michelle Ramos Vargas – Puerto Rico, September 30, 2020. Age 33.
  30. Kee Sam – Lafayette, Louisiana, August 12, 2020. Age 24.
  31. Felycya Harris – Augusta, Georgia, October 3, 2020. Age 32.
  32. Brooklyn DeShauna Smith – Shreveport, Louisiana, October 7, 2020. Age 20.
  33. Sara Blackwood – Indianapolis, Indiana, October 11, 2020. Age 39.
  34. Angel Haynes – Memphis, Tennessee, October 25, 2020. Age 25.
  35. Lea Rayshone Daye – Cleveland, Ohio, August 30, 2020. Age 28.
  36. Scott DeVore, also known as Scottlynn Kelly DeVore – Augusta, Georgia, March 31, 2020. Age 51
  37. Yunieski Carey Herrera – Miami, November 17, 2020. Age 39.
  38. Asia Jynaé Foster – Houston, Texas, November 20, 2020. Age 22.
  39. Chae’Meshia Simms – Richmond, Texas, November 23, 2020. Age: 39.
  40. Skylar Heath – Miami, Florida, November 4, 2020. Age 20.
  41. Kimberly Fial – San Jose, California, November 22, 2020. Age 55.
  42. Bella Pugh – Prichard, Alabama, December 13, 2020. Age 19.

We are also monitoring these suspicious deaths


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