Tyra Hunter (1970 – August 7, 1995) was an African-American hairdresser and transgender woman who died after being injured as a passenger in a car accident. Hunter transitioned at 14 and lived her adult life as a woman.[2] The District of Columbia was found responsible for her death, due to not delivering medical care,[3] and for violations of the DC Human Rights Act during her treatment.

Tyra Hunter
Born1970 or 1971
Died (aged 24)[1]
Cause of deathBlunt trauma
  • Margie Hunter (mother)

Accident and death Edit

Hunter and her friend Tedessa Rankin were driving to work when they were hit by another car on the corner of 50th St SE & C St SE,[1] a block away from where she lived,[4]: 234  in the neighborhood of Marshall Heights. The other car was going twice the speed limit and had run a traffic light. The driver of the car, which was stolen, fled.[4]: 234  Gerald Jay Johnson, the 21 year old driving the car that hit her, was charged with negligent homicide.[1]

According to witnesses, a male firefighter helping Hunter stopped and backed away laughing upon discovering that she had a penis, and saying "this bitch ain't no girl...it's a nigger, he's got a dick".[5] Two other witnesses corroborated the comment, but the description of the technician varied.[1] He continued derogatory comments and joking with other firefighters while leaving her untreated.[1][4]: 234  Bystanders requested them to resume treatment, but they did not do so until a supervisor arrived three to seven minutes later.[4]: 234  Fire department officials disputed these, saying that medics never stopped treating her and, while a derogatory comment was made, she couldn't have been saved.[1] Otis J. Latin Sr., the D.C. fire chief, said that they couldn't determine who made the comment, and nobody was disciplined.[1]

ER staff at DC General Hospital subsequently "failed to diagnose Hunter's injuries and follow nationally accepted standards of care."[6] Hunter died about an hour after arriving,[4]: 234  and two hours after the crash.[1]

The D.C. fire department opened two cases to investigate her treatment. The second one was opened in December after fire department officials acknowledged that the first investigation was inadequate, but blamed "pressure to produce results from the gay community" for the speed of the first one.[1]

A candlelight vigil was held in front of a D.C. fire department on September 20, with over 200 demonstrators.[1][4]: 171  Over 2,000 people attended her funeral,[7] in which she was buried as a woman.[4]: 235  Almost all of them were African American. Some attendants wore shirts with an image of her and text reading "God's Gift".[4]: 235  A second vigil was held on October 4 in front of Marion Barry's office, the mayor of D.C at the time.[8]

Early life Edit

By the time [s]he was 13, I knew [s]he was going to be gay. I would buy [her] guns and trains, and [s]he played with girl's dolls. [She] didn't want to play sports; [s]he wanted to model clothes for [her] aunt. [She]'d rather do [her] sister's hair than roughhouse with the boys.

Margie Hunter[1]

Tyra Hunter was born in Culpeper, Virginia and raised by her mother, Margie Hunter, and her sister, Linette. Her father left when she was 7.[1] She grew up in the Southeast neighborhood of D.C.[4]: 234  and at 15, she confided with her mom that she (at the time living as a male) was gay, and felt like she should be a girl.[1] Her family supported her transition and stopped viewing her as a boy, though they continued to use male pronouns and her given name. By 17, she was living as Tyra, a woman. She received gender-affirming care, and began saving for gender-affirming surgery.[4]: 234  Most in her community had no difficulty with the change, as they had always seen her as a woman.[4]: 234–235  She worked as a hairdresser at several places.

Lawsuit Edit

Margie Hunter filed a $10 million lawsuit in February 1996, alleging that the EMTs and Dr. Joseph Bastien failed to do their jobs to save Tyra Hunter's life.[9]

The case against the District of Columbia was tried by Richard F. Silber. Dana Priesing, a transgender activist[7] observing the trial, wrote that the evidence supported "the inference that a stereotype (namely that Hunter was an anonymous, drug-using, transgender street person) affected the treatment Tyra received," and that the "ER staff, as evidenced by their actions, did not consider her life worth saving."[10] Adrian Williams, one of the EMTs who had neglected to treat Hunter, testified that he assumed she was a man on sight, "failing to notice that she had breasts, make-up, women's clothing, a woman's hairstyle, and white nail polish."[10] One DC General employee, after being subpoenaed, left for Africa and did not return until late December 1998.[10] In the end, none of the EMTs involved were ever disciplined.[7]

On December 11, 1998, a jury awarded Margie Hunter almost $2.3 million[6] after finding the District of Columbia, through its employees in the DC Fire Department and doctors at DC General, liable under the DC Human Rights Act and for negligence and medical malpractice for causing Hunter's death. $600,000 was awarded for damages attributable to violations of the DC Human Rights Act associated with the withdrawal of medical care at the accident scene and openly denigrating Hunter with epithets, a further $1.5 million was awarded to her mother for Hunter's conscious pain and suffering and for economic loss from the wrongful death medical malpractice claim. Doctors at DC General failed to diagnose and treat Hunter who died of internal bleeding in the hospital emergency room. Evidence at the trial demonstrated that had Hunter been provided with a blood transfusion and referred to a surgeon, she would have had an 86% chance of surviving.[11] In subsequent negotiations the case was settled for $1.75m.[12]

Legacy Edit

Genny Beemyn writes that Hunter's death "significantly changed attitudes towards trans people and became a defining moment" for LGBT rights organizations in the United States, especially in Washington, D.C.[4]: 234  Coverage of her death in The Washington Post "persistently mischaracterized Hunter's gender identity", and resulted in a small demonstration in September 1995 outside the paper's headquarters.[4]: 236 

Transgender Youth Resources and Advocacy (TYRA) was a program of the former Illinois Gender Advocates, and Howard Brown Health Center was a Chicago area transgender youth initiative named in the memory of Tyra Hunter.[citation needed]

See also Edit

References Edit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Bowles, Scott; Melillo, Wendy (December 10, 1995). "A DEATH ROBBED OF DIGNITY MOBILIZES A COMMUNITY". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved May 13, 2023.
  2. ^ Donaldson James, Susan (August 7, 2012). "Trans Man Denied Cancer Treatment; Now Feds Say It's Illegal". ABC News. Retrieved 11 May 2020.
  3. ^ Juang, Richard (2006). Stryker, Susan; Whittle, Stephen (eds.). The Transgender Studies Reader. New York: CRC Press. pp. 712–713. ISBN 9780415947091. LCCN 2005037854. OCLC 62782200.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Beemyn, Genny (2015). A Queer Capital: A History of Gay Life in Washington, D.C. Routledge. ISBN 9781317819387. OCLC 881607541.
  5. ^ Thomas, Kendall (2006). Currah, Paisley; M. Juang, Richard; Price Minter, Shannon (eds.). Transgender Rights. University of Minnesota Press. p. 315. ISBN 9780816643127. OCLC 68221085.
  6. ^ a b Elena Fern, Maria (December 12, 1998). "DEATH SUIT COSTS CITY $2.9 MILLION". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved May 13, 2023.
  7. ^ a b c Wilchins, Riki (2017-05-31). TRANS/gressive: How Transgender Activists Took on Gay Rights, Feminism, the Media & Congress… and Won!. Riverdale Avenue Books LLC. ISBN 978-1-62601-367-4. OCLC 1002124107.
  8. ^ Muzzy, Frank (2005). Images of America: Gay and Lesbian Washington, D.C. Arcadia Publishing. p. 47. ISBN 9780738517537. LCCN 2004112836. OCLC 1002124107.
  9. ^ "Trial begins in lawsuit over transvestite's death". Times Record News. Vol. 92, no. 177. Associated Press. November 10, 1998. p. 10A – via Newspapers.com.
  10. ^ a b c "Damages Awarded after Transsexual Woman's Death". Archived from the original on 2014-03-24. Retrieved 2014-07-15.[dead link]
  11. ^ "Violence Engulfs Transgender Population in D.C." Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved 2020-06-14.
  12. ^ "District settles Hunter lawsuit for $1.75 million".

External links Edit