Although she was only 23 at the time of her death, people who knew transgender woman Zoe Spears said she had a positive, lasting impact on their lives.
Close to 100 people turned out at D.C.’s Metropolitan Community Church on July 12 for a Celebration of Life service for Spears, who was shot to death on June 13 on a street in Fairmount Heights, Md., just across the D.C. line in Prince George’s County.
P.G. County police say they have no suspects in the case but continue to actively investigate the murder, which took place just a few blocks away from where transgender woman Ashanti Carmon, 27, was also fatally shot on March 30. Police say they have no known suspects in that case.
Prior to the start of the service a viewing was held at the church in which well-wishers approached an open coffin.
Among those who spoke at the service were D.C. Council member Vince Gray (D-Ward 7) and Sheila Alexander Reid, director of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Office of LGBTQ Affairs. Reid read a letter from Bowser expressing condolences to Spears’s family and friends and expressing her support and solidarity with the transgender community.
June Crenshaw, executive director of the Wanda Alston Foundation, which provides housing and services for LGBT youth; and Charmaine Eccles, an executive assistant at Casa Ruby, a D.C. LGBT community services center that also provides housing and services for LGBT youth, each spoke of their interaction with Spears. They noted that Spears was a client of their respective organizations.
“She continued to drop by the Wanda Alston Foundation because she was loved,” said Crenshaw. “She was funny and sarcastic. She would send me emails in the middle of the night,” Crenshaw continued. “She had a plan. She taught me every day is an opportunity to live as yourself.”
Added Crenshaw, “As an LGBTQ community we failed her…We failed to save her life. She is challenging us to do better.”
Eccles of Casa Ruby called Spears “one of the most unforgettable people I ever met,” adding that Spears in a positive way often challenged Casa Ruby’s rules and procedures.
“She was a challenger and we need more people like that,” Eccles said. “She will continue to make an impact.”
Casa Ruby founder and executive director Ruby Corado also attended the service. Corado has said she too got to know Spears, who she said called her “mom,” making Spears’ death especially painful, Corado has said.
Gray, who noted that he expanded the city’s job training programs to reach out to transgender people during his tenure as D.C. mayor, said he would continue to push for such programs.
LGBT activists have pointed out that both Spears and Carmon were murdered in an area known as a place where female sex workers, including female trans sex workers, congregate. Activists have said discrimination in employment often has forced transgender women, especially trans women of color like Spears and Carmon, to engage in sex work as a means of economic survival.
“I will continue to be a strong champion of efforts to stop violence against LGBT people,” Gray said. “Transgender women need and deserve good jobs as much as anyone else,” he said.
Bishop Allyson Abrams, pastor of D.C.’s Empowerment Liberation Cathedral, officiated over the July 12 service for Spears. In a eulogy for Spears, Abrams called on the entire D.C. area community to take action needed to address underlying issues that place people like Spears in danger.
“She was not just existing,” said Abrams in discussing Spears’ short life. “She had a plan. She knew where she was going.”
Also calling on the community and the city government to do more to secure the safety of transgender people was D.C. transgender activist Dee Curry.
“We are no longer pleading with government,” said Curry. “We are demanding of government,” she said. “We want to sit at the table with you to decide what we need. We deserve to be treated with honor because we are children of God.”
D.C. transgender rights advocate Earline Budd, who helped organize the service, said among those in attendance were Schmeara Mocu, Spears’s sister, and Mocu’s husband. Budd said Mocu and her husband used their phones to livestream the service so that Spears’s mother, who was unable to travel to D.C. from South Bend, Ind., where she lives, was able to view the service.
Budd said a fundraising effort through a GoFundMe campaign was underway to help pay for a burial for Spears in a D.C. area cemetery that Budd said was expected to take place in the near future.