Beto O'Rourke calls out the rise of violence against trans women of color

Trans women of color Chynal Lindsey and Muhlaysia Booker were killed in Texas.

He said their names.

Chynal Lindsey and Muhlaysia Booker, both trans women of color recently killed in former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke’s home state in Dallas. Their cases are two of several in a string of violent attacks against trans women of color – a population facing steep marginalization both within the haven of the LGBTQ community and mainstream society.

O’Rourke invoked the women’s names as he unveiled a proposal Wednesday morning on achieving equality for LGBTQ Americans, and reinstating protections that President Donald Trump's administration has discontinued.

O’Rourke led a morning Pride run Wednesday on the Hudson River’s banks in New York City – just steps from the historic Stonewall Inn and on the heels of his plan’s rollout. As he jogged he kept step with his supporters and potential voters who put their candidate through his paces on issues important to LGBTQ community.

And while other candidates have, too, sought to highlight the issues impacting the trans community on the trail through thoughts, prayers, and tweets O’Rourke mentioning the women by name as he rolled out his LGBTQ policy proposal was a notable moment.

His announcement came on the three-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, and in the midst of Pride month.

"I want to make sure part of the way we commemorate those victims and acknowledge the hatred and homophobia that still exist in this country is to take decisive action to protect the full rights of every single one of our fellow Americans," O’Rourke told the small crowd of runners clad in rainbow and Beto for Texas gear. "This is an opportunity for the moral leadership of the U.S. but that moral authority has to start here in this country.”

That moral leadership was built on the backs of so many who came before him, O’Rourke said. His duty is now to honor the victims of intolerance and to ensure proper protections for the LGBTQ community in America, he added.

His plan aims at increased protections, on both national and global stages. It’s built on a three-part framework, protecting the LGBTQ+ community by using combined executive authority and legislative action. Similar to New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's recently unveiled plan, this includes overturning the transgender troop ban, as well as the "Deploy or Get Out" policy, ban the practice of discharging HIV+ service members; and ensuring that sexual orientation and gender identity would be protected under Title VII and Title IX.

It would also protect LGBTQ youth from conversion therapy, and appoint judges and executive-branch officials, including openly LGBTQ appointees. Like many of his 2020 competitors, O’Rourke pledges to pass the Equality Act, and ensure equal access to health insurance and equal treatment within the criminal justice system. On the global stage, O’Rourke would aim to work with allies and the United Nations to improve the process for LGBTQ+ refugees and asylum seekers and invest in international assistance for human rights groups.

Booker, 22, gained national attention earlier this year when a video circulated online showing a brutal beating by several men in the parking lot of an apartment complex as a crowd cheered. She survived the attack, telling police it all happened after a minor traffic accident, and that the men yelled homophobic and transphobic slurs at her.

She was found shot to death in the city last month.

Police in Dallas have arrested a suspect in connection with a string of murders targeting black transgender women.

Kendrell Lavar Lyles, 34, was charged with murder in the slaying of Booker, who was last seen getting into a light colored Lincoln, which is the same type of car driven by Lyles.

Lyles was also named as a person of interest in the death of another black transgender woman, Lindsey, 26, whose body was found in a Dallas lake less than a month after Booker’s murder. Police are also looking to see if he could be linked to the deaths of other transgender women in the city.

Booker and Lindsey's deaths highlight a larger epidemic of attacks against trans women – particularly those of color especially – a population facing greater risks of discrimination, poverty and homelessness.

Other 2020 candidates have spoken about the violence against the LGBTQ community.

O’Rourke, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg tweeted specifically about Booker. Sen. Kamala Harris has tweeted against conversion therapy and about the rise of deadly attacks against the transgender community – though in the past, the former California Attorney General came under fire after her opposition to a transgender inmate’s appeal to continue hormone therapy in prison.

In early June, Former Vice President Joe Biden addressed the five African American transgender women who have already been killed this year.

"We've already had five, just this year, five black transgender women killed violently in 2019 - that's outrageous. It must, it must, it must end," he said. "And the fastest way to end it is, end the Trump administration."