I met Ebony Morgan three weeks ago on June 11, 2017 – a Sunday. We were traveling on the Smart Way Connector bus from the Amtrak train station in Lynchburg, Virginia to the civic center in Roanoke. I remember Ebony in particular because, though there were many passengers on the bus that evening traveling to Roanoke and Blacksburg, we were the only passengers seated in the very back of the bus. We interacted.
Yesterday, I saw the tragic news that Ebony had been killed. I am saddened and compelled to remember her.
I don’t know Ebony well enough to compose a worthy elegy. I can report plainly on the few shallow memories I recorded during the few minutes that I saw her. As with all things that have lived only in the mind for weeks, they will be inaccurate, and they will be less significant to the minds of others.
Ebony had long hair that was improbably shiny and improbably straight. Her voice had the sound of a gentle person, but was capable of volume. I don’t know if Ebony was particularly tall, because she was seated when I knew her, but she wasn’t short and I choose to remember her as tall.
Awkwardly, because I was returning from a six week trip to South Africa learning how people used mobile phones, most of my memories of Ebony are related to the way that she used her phone, an Android device. The most remarkable thing was that she used her smart phone as an actual telephone, conducting a voice call while on the bus. I do not attempt to remember the content of the call, because it was private and I ignored it, as one does. But I do remember that she laughed, and her tone was of the kind that one might take with a close friend or family member. And so I imagine Ebony as a person that made a special effort for personal connection, in a time when such a thing is less common.
Ebony also used her phone to play a Pac-Man style game, which I choose to remember as Ms. Pac-Man, a game that is simultaneously a feminist icon and a subject of feminist criticism.
I guessed that Ebony, like me, had been traveling and was returning via the Amtrak trains and the connector bus to a home in the Roanoke or Blacksburg area. This was not the case. She told me that she lived in Lynchburg and was riding the bus to Roanoke to go to the clubs. Sunday, she said, was a popular night there. She would need to take a cab, for safety. I didn’t offer her a ride because I’d been traveling for a very long time and was eager to get home. I had a small amount of cash in my pocket, which I was able to give to her because I understood the need for safety, and because I felt so close to my home, my car, and my own safety.
As I shook her hand and said goodbye, I didn’t feel any strong, psychic sense that it would be the last time that I would see her. I don’t think that she gave me her phone number – and I simply forgot about our meeting until now.
One way to grieve and honor someone we have lost is to do the things that they might have done. This can be done subconsciously, as when someone takes on a formerly loathed personality characteristic of a deceased parent. It can be done consciously, as when we honor a missing friend on her birthday by enjoying a slice of cake.
I will attempt to remember and honor Ebony today by finding and playing Ms. Pac-Man, but I will know that this is not enough to memorialize a multifaceted person with friends and family who has died tragically.
While I am an optimist and believe that most of the people that I meet want to be good, I have lived in the world long enough to know that sometimes people can be violent to other people with little provocation. Sometimes, people are harmed because they seem vulnerable and easy to target. Other times, people are harmed when someone else has become uncomfortable, threatened, or frightened by their presence. Both of these things may have applied to Ebony, a black transgender woman.
The first articles that appeared about Ebony’s death reported that the police did not have any specific evidence to mark the murder as a hate crime. It’s conceivable that this assault was not about Ebony’s gender identity, and it’s possible that the murderer didn’t know that Ebony was transgender. But LGBTQ Nation and other sites have noted that this is the 15th reported murder of a transgender person in the United States this year. This is a problem.
As I try to remember more about the day that I met Ebony Morgan, I recall that I passed through Washington, D.C., and there was a Pride Festival as I visited the National Mall. Many of the people there participated in other weekend events, both celebratory and political, including an Equality March past the White House. Today is July 4th, Independence Day, a patriotic day in the United States. It occurs to me that the people that participated in these events – and other actions supporting justice and diversity – are the true patriots. I wish to encourage you to continue. It’s easy to become burned out or frustrated when there is so much work to do, when there are so many injustices, and there are politicians that seem unresponsive. One might come to believe that these events don’t matter, but they really *do* matter. Visibility is important. Critical mass is important. Culture *does* change, eventually, and politicians do eventually respond. There is so much more work to be done, but remember specifically the progress that has come from prior effort. Anyone who is doing this work – the work of making the United States a better place to live for all people – is an American Hero.
There are groups dedicated to equal rights for LGBTQ Americans, groups focused on accelerating acceptance through representations in popular culture and media, and local groups to support LGBTQ+ individuals in the context of the broader community.
These groups will do a much better job of honoring Ebony Morgan than I can do today. Please support them.