It’s been just shy of a year since we learned of your death. I’ll never forget seeing the headline and selfishly feeling how close this one hit to my own home. I too am a gay woman living in Texas. While my wife and I relish the Dallas lifestyle, Galveston—where you were thoughtlessly left—has come to be our favorite little getaway. Fresh seafood, long walks on the seawall, and the campy gay bars of the island have become the background for many cherished moments in my marriage. In fact, we visited the beach town to celebrate our 1 year wedding anniversary only a few months after the news broke. Gay Day at the beach in June didn’t seem as lighthearted and fun that year knowing two of our own had been taken from us and dumped not far from the music and cocktails in celebration of Pride month.
So much has changed since you left. I’m happy to report we are making progress. Real dialogue is happening with regard to marriage equality in our home state. Hard to believe, right? The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals will finally consider marriage cases from our very own Lone Star State on January 9th. And while a more muted brand of racism still pervades the landscape of the South–and possibly our whole country–I see it being brought out of the closet every day. It’s not exactly sitting well with racism deniers in Texas, or anywhere for that matter. But, it’s happening. And I keep reminding myself that it’s a step in the right direction.
Amongst the discourse concerning how many black lives we’re losing to senseless murder, police brutality, and incarceration, and how white privilege impacts such injustice, your story is resurfacing. The popular gay blog Towleroad is suggesting that, had you been a white gay male couple rather than black lesbians, we might be doing more to demand justice be brought to your murderer. No community wants to own up to its own prejudice – especially one that is quite familiar with being on the business end of discrimination. But, maybe it’s true. Maybe we moved on from your tragedy too quickly. Maybe we shouldn’t have let go of our outrage so soon. Maybe we should’ve used our anger to demand that your killer pay for their crimes. Then maybe we wouldn’t be sitting here today, wondering when—if ever—the person who robbed you of ever seeing your 25th birthday would be convicted.
But, here I am, 10 months later, scouring the details of your death and the investigation which has taken place since March of last year. What I am finding is far more disturbing than I had anticipated. I was prepared for the grisly details of how you were killed and carelessly disposed of. However, I am increasingly saddened and, to be frank, quite disturbed to learn of the tactless manner in which members of your own family talk of your relationship and sexuality. Rather than acknowledging the love that you shared, I hear denial that any relationship of substance could’ve occurred between you two. In The Houston Chronicle, I discovered that a family member believes you were not gay. Your father believes were simply confused, Crystal. And another loved one voiced that, while you shared a home with this family member, nothing romantic was happening between the two of you.
I say this not to insult a family who is dealing with more loss than I can imagine, but to address the injustice that is happening surrounding your memory. I accept that there are people in this world who cannot or will not understand that the love shared in a gay relationship is no different than that of a straight couple. But, you are not here to speak for yourself. You cannot insist that the emotion and attraction you shared was real, and real enough to carry you through almost two years of dating. Your commitment led you to plans of building a life together and of raising your young daughter Zaniah. Each of you grew up in arguably less than ideal circumstances. And you wanted a better life for your own family. How they can so easily gloss over this is lost on me.
It seems that the investigation of your death points to one person, which made your case even more alarming when we first learned of the suspect last year. Investigators express a degree of confidence that your own father took you and your girlfriend’s life, Britney. An unsupportive parent is commonplace in our community, but most of us cannot conceive of having our life cut short at the hands of one of the people who gave it to us in the first place. Prior to your death, you both shared a home with him. I fear that the days leading up to your death were far from pleasant. As a man who was known for being aggressive with women and even served time for sexual assault, I am quite certain that living with him wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. Knowing your plans for a more stable future, I could speculate that your time sharing a home with him was intended to be a mere step on the path toward independence. In learning more about your childhood, Britney, I can’t help but wonder if the caretaker in you (who also cared for your ailing great-grandmother) wanted to see your father rehabilitated. According to the Galveston County DA, investigators are still waiting on scientific evidence in your case. I can only hope it doesn’t go cold.
Despite some of your family’s refusal to accept who you were, I’d like to think that you knew your worth. You knew that, although the lives of gay black women often come with much discrimination, there was real beauty in what set you apart. I hope you understood that finding love in another person is special and rare. And this love is not lessened when it is found in someone of the same sex. I hope that, wherever you are, you have found peace. And I hope that you can forgive us if we have not fought hard enough for justice in your name. Please know we will never forget you.