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Whore Next Door: Trauma in the Court - By siouxsie-q - March 22, 2017 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Whore Next Door: Trauma in the Court

(Photograph by Isabel Dresler/Isabeldresler.com)

Gigi Thomas’ peers describe her as “one of those people who just gives and gives with all they have,” and an “amazing woman” with “a heart of gold.” Thomas, a resident of the D.C.-Baltimore area who holds a Masters degree in social work, served as a client consultant with sex-worker rights and human-services organization HIPS. She’s beloved by many and a valuable resource for the transgender community. According to Kris Gebhard, a fellow trans-genderqueer therapist in the area, mental-health providers who are “trans competent” are few and far between.

But Thomas has been held inside a men’s prison since October 2015, when she was accused of the murder of Devale Lamont Avery, an acquaintance of hers for more than 30 years. According to the Washington Blade, a police affidavit states that an argument between Thomas and Avery escalated to a fatal stabbing, and Avery was pronounced dead at the scene. One source close to Thomas told the Blade they believed she was defending herself against an assault and robbery by Avery.

Dozens of Thomas’ supporters filled the courtroom during the course of the three-day trial, in which Thomas was repeatedly misgendered by the prosecuting attorney as she told the jury — whom Gebhard says could not in any way be described as a group of Thomas’ “peers” — that “this is not about ‘transgender’!” and invalidated Thomas’s life and experience as part of the legal proceedings.

No one knows for sure what happened that night, as Thomas claims to have no memory of the incident. But we do know that transgender women of color are rarely given a fair shake from the judicial system in the United States. In addition to patrolling communities of color, law enforcement routinely profile transgender women, many of whom describe being stopped, harassed, and even arrested by police for “walking while trans.”

Phoenix student and sex-worker activist Monica Jones was arrested in 2014 for accepting a ride home from an undercover cop at local bar. She was subsequently charged with “manifesting prostitution,” fined, and jailed for 15 days. The transgender and sex-worker communities rallied around her, the ACLU got involved, and the conviction was eventually overturned. Jones, who now heads the Outlaw Project for racial and economic justice, attended Thomas’ trial on Feb. 27. She empathized about being misgendered during legal proceedings, pointing out that the aggressions she had experienced came only from the arresting officers. She was shocked that the prosecuting attorney would so flagrantly disregard Thomas’ gender.

“Any trans woman of color is already assumed guilty, from the moment they decide that they are human beings,” Gebhard tells me by phone after Thomas’ trial. “The criminal justice system can only exacerbate trauma.”

Thomas was held for more than a year without bail, often in solitary confinement — where transgender prisoners are frequently housed, due to ignorance and lack of infrastructure on the part of the prison system. The charge was first-degree murder, though was ultimately reduced to second-degree murder. The jury found Thomas guilty.

Gebhard says taking Thomas away from those she has served for more than a decade is, itself, an act of violence against the entire trans community, as she has been such a critical resource to so many. In a world where trans people have so few allies who can offer aid and resources for navigating through a system that is actively working against them, the ripples of losing a fierce advocate to what might be a lengthy prison term will be felt for a very long time.

Thomas will be sentenced May 9. In the meantime, advocates have set up a crowdfunding campaign on Genersosity.com to cover legal fees and urge anyone who wishes to write to Maryland District Judge DaNeeka V. Cotton about Thomas’ activism and service to the trans and sex-worker communities to send letters as soon as possible to her attorney, David M. Simpson, at

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