January 9, 2018
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien was found in her North Adams home Friday. Her death has been ruled a homicide and her husband has been charged with her murder. Christa is both the first alleged domestic violence related death in MA and the first reported homicide of a transgender person in the United States for 2018.
“We are heartbroken and outraged,” said Janis Broderick, Executive Director at Elizabeth Freeman Center, the domestic and sexual violence response center for Berkshire County, where Christa lived. “When we lose someone to intimate partner violence in our county, it is devastating. It leaves a hole in our hearts and in the fabric of our community. As a transgender woman, Christa was a vital part of the LGBTQ community as well. Her murder reminds us that trans and gender-nonconforming people face extraordinary levels of violence, and that sometimes they experience this violence at the hands of the people closest to them. This cannot go on. Now more than ever, affirming services for LGBTQ survivors of violence are a vital need in our communities.” A vigil for Christa was held in North Adams on Monday, January 8th.
“The LGBQ/T communities are no stranger to mourning the violent loss of community members,” said Sabrina Santiago, Co-Executive Director of The Network/La Red. “We talk about homicide, especially towards trans women, as hate crimes rooted in homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. However, we don’t talk about the LGBQ/T homicides that occur in relation to domestic violence. We need to start talking about the violence occurring within our communities.”
Berkshire County’s’ based Elizabeth Freeman Center, Hampshire County’s Northampton based Safe Passage, Franklin County’s NELCWIT, and LGBQ/T focused The Network /La Red, joined together to put out this unified message in the wake of this tragedy. These sexual and domestic violence organizations are committed to raising awareness and understanding of these issues so that people can recognize warning signs of domestic violence in general and the red flags for domestic violence homicide in particular. Individually as well as through their statewide membership coalition, Jane Doe Inc., these groups are working to improve access to services and systems response for all domestic violence victims, including the LGBT/Q communities. Their shared vision involves turning awareness into action and connecting domestic violence victims to life-saving and life-changing services while mobilizing communities to help prevent abuse.
Rebecca Majoya, Executive Director of NELCWIT, stated, “Now is a time to mourn Christa’s death, and to remember her life and all the creativity and strength she shared with people in this community. It is also a time to recommit ourselves to supporting trans and gender-nonconforming survivors, through services, policies and laws that help them access safety.”
Studies show that prevalence of LGBQ/T domestic violence mirrors that in straight cisgender communities – from 25-33% of relationships. Transgender people in particular face extraordinary and horrific levels of physical and sexual violence, whether on the streets, at school or work, or at home. More than one in four trans people has faced a hate-driven assault and rates are higher for trans women and trans people of color. “Public education, policy changes, community efforts and so much more are needed to address anti-trans violence and ensure that victims can access support and safety,” claimed Debra Robbin, Executive Director of Jane Doe Inc.
Marianne Winters, Executive Director of Safe Passage, a DV organization serving Hampshire County, commented, “We at Safe Passage are saddened and angry by such a senseless act of violence and the loss of a bright life and clear voice. Our hearts go out to the friends and family members of Christa and to everyone who works for justice and peace, especially for those marginalized and isolated due to their gender identity. Our challenge now is to find hope in the coming together of community and in the pursuit of justice and access for the entire community.”
- Elizabeth Freeman Center, B Bradburd, bb [at] elizabethfreemancenter [dot] org, 413-884-2639
- The Network/La Red, Sabrina Santiago, ed.oeo [at] tnlr [dot] org, 857-990-3087
- Safe Passage, Marianne Winters, marianne [at] safepassage [dot] org, 413-586-1125
- NELCWIT, Rebecca Majoya, rebecca [at] nelcwit [dot] org, 413-527-2738
- Jane Doe Inc., Debra Robbin, drobbin [at] janedoe [dot] org 617-248-0922