Remembering Ms. Cheryl

Post submitted by Ames Simmons, HRC’s Board of Directors

Ms. Cheryl Courtney-Evans was a giant not only in Atlanta’s transgender community but across the nation. At the Human Rights Campaign and other organizations, news of her passing early Sunday morning was met with both deep sadness and gratitude for all she’d done.

Ms. Cheryl founded a support group called Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth, or TILTT. Like many transgender Atlantans, I met Ms. Cheryl early on in my own journey, and heard her speak on many panels and march in many protests over the past almost 10 years.

I spent time visiting with Ms. Cheryl in February at Sean Dorsey’s ground-breaking “Missing Generation” dance performance, which gives voice to longtime survivors of the early AIDS epidemic. Ms. Cheryl’s oral history was included in the performance along with other transgender women from Atlanta, and Ms. Cheryl was recognized by Sean at the performance. While many are familiar with the impact of HIV on gay men in the 1980s, less visibility has been given to the onset of HIV among transgender women. Ms. Cheryl included this memory in Sean’s performance:

Girls were just disappearing. If you missed seeing a girl that you were accustomed to seeing every night or all the time and you weren’t hearing about her being busted in some sort of sweep or raid or getting picked up, if you weren’t hearing about her calling somebody to bring some money down to the jail and you hadn’t seen her, you generally assumed that she was in the hospital. If you didn’t see her [after] about a week or two weeks, well, she’s gone. And we knew they were in a pauper’s grave somewhere…we didn’t know their legal names, the names that we could find them under. So they would just disappear and we would just assume, well, there’s another one gone.

More recently, Ms. Cheryl spoke at a Trans 101 continuing legal education seminar this summer facilitated by the State Bar of Georgia that I also attended. There she compelled lawyers in attendance to care about transgender justice and to center transgender lives in their work. She was to be recognized this weekend as Grand Marshal of Atlanta Pride for her work.

I spoke to my friend, Cierra Ray, the volunteer engagement co-chair for HRC’s Atlanta-based steering committee, yesterday about Cheryl’s passing. “I just want people to know how much she affected all of us, and how I want to continue her work through love the way she did,” she said.

We will all try to carry on the legacy Ms. Cheryl left behind. Rest in power, Ms. Cheryl.