26-year old transgender woman Sumaya Dalmar, also known as Sumaya Ysl, was found dead Sunday February 22 in the east of Toronto, Ontario. The cause of death is still being investigated.
Sumaya was born in Somalia and immigrated to Canada at the age of 3 with her parents. She began her transition in 2011 and was the subject of a short documentary and photographic project in 2012 called ‘An Intimate Portrait of Somalian Trans-Woman’ by Abdi Osman. The piece was a mixture of studio portraits and daily life photographs overlaid with a double projection video.
According to the Toronto Police Service’s Facebook posting, she was found unresponsive and was pronounced dead at the scene. “Police from 55 Division are conducting a thorough investigation. An autopsy has been completed; the results were inconclusive. As with other investigations, toxicology tests are pending. To protect the privacy of the victim, no further details on the cause of death will be released.”
“At this time, we have no evidence to indicate the death is suspicious” the post continues, “If the investigation leads us to believe otherwise, we will provide an update” the Toronto Police state, but social media was quick to label it a homicide and with little to no media coverage on her death, the transgender community is asking once again, how can another death of a trans-woman of color go unreported?
According to a recent article in this publication, a person who is transgender dies every 29 hours yet they make up less than 1% of the world’s population. As a response to this violence, a Facebook page has been set up declaring the last week in February as ‘Worldwide Don’t Kill a Trans Woman Week.’
That page issued a content warning for the outbreak of verbal abuse that erupted in the comments section as conversations deteriorated quickly into finger pointing and a break-down of communication between trans-women, trans-men and some cisgender people who tried to label themselves as “allies.” As a result of the discourse, the page was shut down the morning of February 26.
As chosen family members and close friends of Sumaya continue to mourn her death, the Police and birth parents are releasing very little information to the public and some of the details of the internal strife are beginning to surface.
According to a close family source, Sumaya’s biological parents “disowned” her when she came out as transgender and they are refusing to release any information pertaining to her death. In a private Facebook conversation from Sumaya’s biological cousin, she alleges that her birth father refused to claim the body of Sumaya out of shame, however, sources confirm that the biological mother and sister have claimed the body and there is a private funeral service for Sumaya on February, 25 and a memorial service is taking place on March 3, 2015.
The following confidential exchange between Sumaya’s biological cousin and her Gay Mother Krystal was supplied to PlanetTransgender. [Gay Mothers, similar to foster mothers, fill the parental role of biological parents to trans-women who are abandoned by their family when they come out as transgender.]
A close friend who considered Sumaya a sister and chooses to remain anonymous said in a text to PlanetTransgender, “She cared about every single person; she would text …us to say I love you. Every single friend of mine she met in Montreal [Quebec], she always remember[ed] their name. A heart bigger than everything when you really know her. She would make you feel like her own blood.”
The following text was a recent exchange between Sumaya and that friend.
The same friend’s deeply felt emotional response was clear in a recent post on his Facebook wall, verbatim as follows, “Lord please help me so many things I didn’t had the chance to do with her she was such an amazing person love you more she used to say I can hear her voice calling me brother I refuse to believe it she cant just leave like that words cant describe how amazing she was I wanna carry your name your soul in my heart forever I will see you again sister be patient this is far to be the end u will never die for me Sumaya Ysl”
As Krystal tries to come to grips with losing a person she considered to be a daughter, she wants people to know “…that her [Sumaya’s] truth and life can’t go without notice because of her birth family, they are the ones who neglected to allow her to experience freedom sooner and after death physically because that same prison is locking her truth up for good. It’s not fair for her and all the other women who share this story when it comes to being ostracized by family. She found love in her community of friends and [her] chosen family and they deserve closure”
Details remain sparse and what appears to be deliberate radio silence on the part of the Toronto Police Service and her birth parents continues to feed speculation about what exactly happened to Sumaya. What we do know is that the senseless violence against the trans- community needs to end and that begins with wider media coverage and an understanding that people who are transgender deserve equal protection under the law.