Black Trans Activist Nona Conner Mourned at DC Vigil

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday May 25, 2021

Black trans activist Nona Moselle Conner survived a brutal attack in which she was stabbed 48 times in 2016. That experience made her a stronger advocate, The Washington Post reported. (Article is behind a paywall.)

Conner died in Washington, D.C., on May 13, at the age of 37. No cause of death has been made public, but "foul play is not suspected," according to the Post.

Still, though she survived the stabbing — an attack that a male perpetrator reportedly launched when she "rejected his request for a sexual act" — Conner was subjected on a daily basis to a less dramatic, though still potent, form of violence: Economic and societal marginalization.

That was something Conner pushed back against.

Per the Post article, "She survived housing insecurity. She survived sex work. She survived a life of insults and rejections and financial instability. All of those were things she talked about publicly through interviews, social media posts and a string of GoFundMe pages."

Conner worked as a program manager for Collective Action for Safe Spaces, which works to eliminate gender-based violence. A page dedicated to Nona on the organization's website stated, "Nona has been a part of our team since 2016, when our community rallied together to establish a paid position for her."

The tribute continues: "In these past couple months, she'd began curating an arts-based storytelling project for sex workers impacted by the pandemic, and was actively facilitating No Justice No Pride house management and mutual aid requests amidst managing her own health and financial challenges."

Conner had contributed to the project with her own original poetry in which she described herself as being "tired of being in bondage" and "tired of being not heard."

Those sentiments were echoed in comments made in response to the Post article by a housemate of Conner's, a trans woman named Kimberlee, who talked about having to turn to sex work to survive.

"We got to do what we got to do," said Kimberlee. "We don't have any privilege. Y'all won't let us work at your establishments. Y'all won't let us live in your apartments."

The Post noted that a vigil in D.C. commemorated Conner's life, along with that of 30-year-old Giselle Hartzog, a homeless trans woman who was reported to have been found dead on May 18. As with Conner, foul play is not suspected in her Hartzog's death, but speakers at the vigil for both women addressed the years-long epidemic of lethal violence that targets transgender and gender-nonconforming people, with trans women of color bearing the brunt of the violence.

Last year set a devastating record for the lethal violence directed at trans and gender-nonconforming people — claiming at least 44 victims — and 2021 is already on track to shatter last year's numbers.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.