More than 20 family members of internationally known transgender and sex worker rights advocate Sharmus Outlaw joined LGBT activists for a memorial celebration of Outlaw’s life on Aug. 20 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Washington, D.C.
Outlaw, who most recently served a national policy advocate for the sex workers rights organization Best Practices Policy Project, died on July 7 at a hospice in Arlington, Va., from complications associated with lymphoma. She was 50.
Friends said she was a beloved figure and mentor to many in the D.C.-area transgender community through her advocacy work and numerous friendships.
“Sharmus Outlaw understood those who society marginalizes and the disenfranchised,” said Rev. Dyan Abena McCray-Peters, pastor of Unity Fellowship Church in D.C., in a eulogy for Outlaw.
“Sharmus was the Rosa Parks for the transgender community,” McCray-Peters said. “She was the Martin Luther King Jr. for those challenged with HIV/AIDS,” she said, adding, “God sent Sharmus Outlaw to this earth to do something special and she did it.”
Among those attending the memorial were Outlaw’s siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews, including one baby and two small kids.
“We love you,” some of them said as McCray-Peters and others spoke of their interactions with Outlaw both professionally and personally.
D.C. transgender activists Ruby Corado, Earline Budd, and Darby Hickey each said Outlaw played an important role over the past dozen or more years in helping to improve the lives of transgender people.
Several of Outlaw’s family members, including her brother, referred to Outlaw as “he” and “him,” saying they understood and respected her transition as a trans woman but they could not think of her other than the person they knew and loved while growing up in North Carolina and later in suburban Maryland.
“We know they loved her and respected her despite the wrong pronouns,” said Budd, who noted that she has helped organize memorial services for numerous transgender women whose family members often grapple with how to describe their deceased loved ones.
At the conclusion of the service, Outlaw’s family members posed for a group photograph while standing in front of a poster size photo of Outlaw at the front of the church.