2021 was even deadlier for trans people than thought as death of Latina woman discovered

Martina Caldera sits on a park bench

Last year was even deadlier for trans people than feared as the murder of Latina woman Martina Caldera brings an already daunting death toll to 56.

As 2021 drew to a close, activists recoiled in horror after more than 50 trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming people – many of them Black trans women – were murdered, various monitoring groups found.

But weeks into 2022, yet more victims of a wave of violence that the American Medical Association declared an “epidemic” have emerged.

The latest is Martina Caldera, a 38-year-old Latina trans woman who was found fatally shot in Houston, Texas, on 6 December.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, her killing went vastly unreported until now. This makes her “at least” the 56th trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming person to have been violently killed in 2021.

Caldera was found near an overpass on the East Freeway at Sheldon Road in Channelview, a suburb on the east side of Houston.

Harris County Sheriff’s Office investigators initially believed she had been struck by a car before the vehicular crime division determined she had been shot several times.

Speaking to Click2Houston.com, a local news outlet, Caldera’s family described her as a warm-hearted woman who never forgot a friend’s birthday and always sought to remind everyone in her life that she cared for them.

She had a “heart of gold,” they said, who was “always smiling, singing and laughing.”

Between working two jobs, Caldera could be found listening to music. “[She] was just a fun [woman] to be around,” her brother Noel Caldera recalled, misgendering his sister.

“We all accepted [her],” added Paul Caldera, her other brother. “We didn’t care [she] was transgendered. That’s what [she] wanted, that’s what [she] liked, that’s what [she] lived.”

With the Harris County Sheriff’s Office homicide unit still investigating, officials asked anyone with information to call: (713) 274-9100.

‘Martina Caldera was a kind person full of life,’ says activist

For activists, Caldera’s case captures the climate of fear so many trans Americans live in and the difficulties they face in accurately tracking killings.

“Martina Caldera was a kind person who was full of life and her family will remember her dearly,” said Tori Cooper, who leads the HRC’s Transgender Justice Initiative, in a statement.

“We need more answers about her death, but we already know the factors that too often result in deaths of transgender and non-binary people.”

Getting a grasp on the true extent of the killings is riddled with problems. Three out of four trans homicide victims are misgendered and deadnamed in police and press reports, the HRC found, meaning that many trans people’s deaths, when not ignored altogether, are reported inaccurately.

Local authorities, meanwhile, are not required to report transphobic killings to any centralised database, often leaving grassroots groups and community leaders to rummage through reports and to talk to victims’ loved ones to verify a victim’s gender identity.

Even with these hurdles, the HRC, among other groups, found 2021’s death toll to be the highest on record since national record-keeping began nearly a decade ago.

The community mourned across 2021: Tyianna AlexandraSamuel Edmund Damián Valentín, Bianca Bankz, Dominique Jackson, Fifty Bandz, Alexus Braxton, Chyna Carrillo, Jeffrey ‘JJ’ Bright, Jasmine Cannady, Jenna Franks, Diamond ‘Kyree’ Sanders, Rayanna Pardo, Dominique Lucious, Jaida Peterson, Remy Fennell, Tiara Banks, Natalia Smüt, Iris Santos, Tiffany Thomas, Jahaira DeAlto Balenciaga, Keri Washington, Sophie Vásquez, Danny Henson, Whispering Bear Spirit, Serenity Hollis, Oliver ‘Ollie’ Taylor, Thomas Hardin, Poe Black, Novaa Watson, Aidelen Evans, Taya Ashton, Shai Vanderpump, Tierramarie Lewis, Miss CoCo, Pooh Johnson, Disaya Monaee, Brianna Hamilton, Kiér Laprí Kartier, Mel Groves, Royal Poetical Starz, Zoella Rose Martinez, Jo Acker, Jessi Hart, Rikkey Outommuro, Marquiisha Lawrence, Jenny De Leon, Angel Naira, Danyale JohnsonCris BleharNikai David, Ke’Yahonna StoneNikki Turietta, Za’niyah Williams, Rubi Dominguez and Keeva Scatter.