The Fenway community joins others around the country in mourning the death of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, who founded beauty pageants for transgender women, including Miss Trans America. She was found dead in her North Adams home on January 5. Her husband Mark Steele-Knudslien notified police on Friday that his wife was dead and confessed to the crime.
Steele-Knudslien was a well-known advocate for the transgender community who empowered transgender women, in particular, to embrace their power. Her pageants dramatically raised the profile of the transgender community locally and nationally, and gave transgender women a public forum to show off their beauty. In 2009, she founded the Miss Trans Northampton beauty pageant, which evolved into Miss Trans New England. In 2014, she founded Miss Trans America. Numerous participants have credited the beauty pageants with giving them the confidence to live more authentically.
Steele-Knudslien’s murder occurred within the epidemic of domestic violence that afflicts all communities. An estimated 25 to 33 percent of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people experience partner abuse in their lifetime, which is similar to that experienced in straight, heterosexual communities.
“Partner abuse is often thought to occur mostly in heterosexual relationships where neither person is transgender,” said Xavier Quinn, manager of the Violence Recovery Program at Fenway Health. “But it happens in our community, too. Christa’s death is a devastating call to action for culturally competent, affirming care for LGBTQ survivors of domestic violence.”
Steele-Knudslien’s death is also the first reported US-based homicide of a transgender person in 2018. The risks to health, safety, and well-being that transgender and gender non-conforming people take simply by living their lives openly are well known. More than 100 transgender people have been murdered in the United States in the past five years. Mirroring statistics of previous years, in 2017, at least 85 percent of the victims were transgender people or color and at least 80 percent were women.
Fenway Health is committed to providing the highest quality of health care to transgender and gender non-conforming people, and to providing services to LGBTQ survivors of violence through the Violence Recovery Program. The Violence Recovery Program provides free and confidential counseling, support groups, advocacy, and legal services to LGBTQ survivors of hate violence, domestic violence, sexual assault, and police misconduct. Counseling and advocacy services are trauma-informed. All services are available in English, with some also available in Spanish. All of the work of the Victim Recovery Program is viewed through an anti-oppression lens, which recognizes the negative effects of homophobia, biphobia, and transphobia for LGBTQ survivors attempting to access services and advocate for change through education and raising public awareness.
The Violence Recovery Program also compiles statewide statistics on anti-LGBTQ hate violence and domestic violence against LGBTQ individuals, and The Fenway Institute at Fenway Health also tracks data and publishes studies documenting the experiences of transgender and gender non-conforming people. Both efforts raise public awareness and inform public debate around potential policy solutions that can help reduce incidents of violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people.
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien’s death has been deeply upsetting to her family and friends, but also to the wider community. One of the most important acts we can take in response to her murder is to raise public awareness of domestic violence. If you can, please speak up about the issue. Talk about it with your friends. Share this blog post with your friends and on your social networks.
Last, and most important, if you have experienced or witnessed an act of violence, please call and report it to us—anonymously, if you wish, at 800-834-3242 or at 617.927.6250. For more information, visit our website fenwayhealth.org/vrp.
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