Miss Trans America founder was first transgender murder of 2018: Here’s why it’s important to keep count

Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, 42, was well known in the Massachusetts transgender community for her activism, her friends say. She launched the first New England Trans Pride event a decade ago, and she and other advocates later started the Miss Trans New England Pageant, which brought together trans women from across the region, according to A. Vickie Boisseau, who officiated at her wedding last April.

“Her thing was always that transgender women are beautiful and need a venue for trans women to be seen as beautiful,” her longtime friend Justin Adkins said.

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Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, 42, was well known in the Massachusetts transgender community for her activism, her friends say. She launched the first New England Trans Pride event a decade ago, and she and other advocates later started the Miss Trans New England Pageant, which brought together trans women from across the region, according to A. Vickie Boisseau, who officiated at her wedding last April.

“Her thing was always that transgender women are beautiful and need a venue for trans women to be seen as beautiful,” her longtime friend Justin Adkins said.

But Steele-Knudslien’s activism came to a tragic on Friday, when she was found stabbed and beaten to death in her Western Massachusetts home. Her husband, Mark Steele-Knudslien, was charged with her murder and pleaded not guilty on Monday, days after police say he admitted hitting her with a hammer and stabbing her after an argument.

Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien is the first known transgender person to be killed this year, according to national LGBTQ organizations GLAAD and Human Rights Campaign (HRC).

Jennifer Wahr, an LGBTQ counselor and advocate at the Elizabeth Freeman Center in Berkshire, Massachusetts, a local anti-domestic violence organization, said the community is “devastated” by her murder.

“Every time this happens is a tragedy that leaves a hole in our communities, both locally and nationally,” Wahr said. “We urge people to advocate within their own communities and nationally for services that provide support for individuals experience intimate partner violence and to always take threats of violence seriously.”

Mark Steele-Knudslien, 47, admitted in an interview that he killed his wife, police said in a statement filed in the Northern Berkshire District Court, MassLive.com reported.

He said he hit her several times with a hammer and then stabbed her in the back with a large knife before wrapping her body in a tarp, police said.

He told investigators they got into an argument and he “snapped,” adding that she was “always belittling him,” police said, according to MassLive.com. He turned himself in at the police department on Friday, telling officers he had done “something very bad,” police said.

He was held Monday without bail. His attorney didn’t immediately respond to an email seeking comment.

The transgender community faced its deadliest year on record in 2017, according to HRC, which reported that 2017 saw “at least 28 transgender people fatally shot or killed by other violent means.”

According to a 2015 reportpublished by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, 31 percent to 50 percent of transgender people experience intimate partner violence during their lifetime. The organization also found barriers for trans people seeking help for domestic abuse, including the risk of “outing” oneself when seeking help and the lack of LGBTQ-inclusive resources.

Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), told NBC News that domestic violence against transgender women is often overlooked, and trans women face structural obstacles to getting help.

“There are certainly acts of violence against trans women from strangers, but a lot of the murders that have happened over the last few years have been domestic violence or intimate partner violence,” she said. “Just because it’s your spouse doesn’t mean the case isn’t related to transphobia.”

Murdered transgender and spouse on wedding day

“These murders are primarily young, low-income transgender women of color, and that’s important to understand,” Keisling added. “Young people, people of color and transgender people are all disrespected, and much more susceptible to violence.”

A survey of 28,000 transgender people conducted by the NCTE in 2015 reported that 42 percent of its respondents said they had experienced intimate partner violence.

  • Mesha Caldwell, 41, a black transgender woman from Canton, Mississippi, was found shot to death the evening of January 4. The murder is still under investigation and no suspects have been arrested.
  • Sean Hake, 23, a transgender man in Sharon, Pennsylvania, died after he was shot by police responding to a 911 call from his mother. A friend told WKBN that Sean “had a genuinely good heart and he had struggled with his problems.”
  • Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, 28, an American Indian woman who identified as transgender and two-spirit, was found dead in her apartment in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. A suspect, 25-year-old Joshua Rayvon LeClaire, has been arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter in connection with her death.
  • JoJo Striker, 23, a transgender woman, was found killed in Toledo, Ohio, on February 8. Striker’s mother, Shanda Striker, described her as “funny and entertaining” and said her family loved her deeply. 
  • Tiara Richmond, also known as Keke Collier, 24, was fatally shot in Chicago on the morning of February 21. A transgender woman of color, she was found dead on the same street as two other transgender women that were killed in 2012. 
  • Chyna Gibson, 31, a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in New Orleans on February 25. Chyna was a much-loved performer in the ballroom community who was visiting friends and family in New Orleans at the time of her death. 
  • Ciara McElveen, 26, a transgender woman of color, was stabbed to death in New Orleans on February 27. McElveen did outreach for the homeless community. As of February 28, 2017, HRC has tracked at least nine murders of transgender people in Louisiana since 2013.
  • Jaquarrius Holland, 18, was shot to death in Monroe, Louisiana, on February 19. One friend, Chesna Littleberry, told Mic that Holland was “like a younger sister” and had helped her learn to accept herself.
  • Alphonza Watson, 38, was shot and killed in Baltimore, Maryland, on March 22. Watson’s mother said her daughter was “the sunshine of our family,” a “caring, passionate” person who loved cooking and gardening.
  • Chay Reed, 28, a transgender woman of color, was shot and killed on April 21 in Miami. Reed’s longtime friend told Mic about their longtime friendship — describing her as someone who was full of life and beloved by many.
  • Kenneth Bostick, 59, was found with severe injuries on a Manhattan sidewalk, he later died of his injuries. Few details about Bostick’s life have been reported, he is believed to have been homeless at the time he was attacked.*
  • Sherrell Faulkner, 46, a transgender woman of color died on May 16, of injuries sustained during an attack on November 30, 2016 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Police are treating the assault as a homicide. No arrests have been made at this point.
  • Kenne McFadden, 27, was found in the San Antonio River on April 9. Police believe she was pushed into the river, which runs through downtown San Antonio. A high-school friend of McFadden described her to local media as assertive, charismatic and lovable. No arrests have been made, but police said they have a person of interest in custody.  
  • Kendra Marie Adams, 28, was found in a building that was under construction and had burns on her body on June 13. Police have charged Michael Davis, 45, with Adams’ murder. Adams also went by Josie Berrios, the name used in initial media reports on her death.
  • Ava Le’Ray Barrin, 17, was shot and killed in Athens, Georgia on June 25 during an altercation in an apartment parking lot. In an online obituary, friends remembered Barrin as a “social butterfly” and an “amazing girl” who “loved to make people laugh.”
  • Ebony Morgan, 28, was shot multiple times in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the early morning of July 2. Morgan was transferred to a local hospital where she succumbed to her injuries. Authorities have named Kenneth Allen Kelly Jr. as a person of interest in the case.  
  • TeeTee Dangerfield, 32, a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed on July 31 in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the Georgia Voice, Dangerfield “was found with multiple gunshot wounds outside of her vehicle at the South Hampton Estates apartment complex.”
  • Jaylow McGlory**, 29, a Black transgender woman, was shot and killed in Alexandria, Louisiana on August 4. According to media reports, a 20-year-old man was later charged with her murder. 
  • Gwynevere River Song26, was shot and killed in Waxahachie, Texas, on August 12. According to their Facebook profile, they identified as “femandrogyne” and a member of the bisexual community.
  • Kiwi Herring30, was killed during an altercation with police on August 22 during an altercation with her neighbor. Relatives told media that the neighbor was transphobic and that excessive force by police led to her death.
  • Kashmire Nazier Redd, 28, was fatally stabbed by his partner on September 5. A friend wrote on Facebook “[Kashmire] loved hard and just wanted to be loved and [accepted].”
  • Derricka Banner, 26, was found shot to death in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 12. Friends describe Banner as a “playful spirit” and “go-getter” who enjoyed life.
  • Scout Schultz, 21, was shot and killed by Georgia Tech campus police on September 16. The GT Progressive Student Alliance, a progressive student advocacy group on campus, called Schultz an “incredible, inspirational member of our community and a constant fighter for human rights.”
  • Ally Steinfeld, 17, was stabbed to death in Missouri in early September. Three people have been charged in her murder. Steinfeld’s family said Ally “sometimes” identified as female on social media. 
  • Stephanie Montez, 47, was brutally murdered near Robstown, Texas. Montez’s longtime friend, Brittany Ramirez, described her as “one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet.” 
  • Candace Towns, 30, a transgender woman who was found shot to death in Georgia. Town’s friend, Malaysa Monroe, remembers Towns’ generosity. “If I needed anything she would give it to me. She would give me the clothes off her back,” Monroe said.
  • Brooklyn BreYanna Stevenson, 31, a Black transgender woman who was found murdered in a motel room in Oklahoma City on November 27. Family describe Stevenson as “an amazing daughter, sister and friend with a giving and loving heart.”
  • Brandi Seals26, a Black transgender woman who was found shot to death in a Houston neighborhood on December 13. Her family described her as a “loving person” and a “beautiful person.” 

On Friday evening, Mark Steele-Knudslien walked into the Adams Police Department and asked to speak with an officer.

He said he had done “something very bad,” and said he should be put in handcuffs, according to a police statement filed in Northern Berkshire District Court.

Steele-Knudslien was arraigned Monday on a count of first-degree murder for the killing of his wife Christa Leigh Steele Knudslien, whose body was found wrapped in bedding, plastic sheeting and a tarp in the basement of the couple’s North Adams home.

Steele-Knudslien, 47, entered a not guilty plea during his arraignment and is being held at the Berkshire County House of Correction without bail.

Christa was an active member of the region’s transgender community and founded two trans beauty pageants: Miss Trans America and Miss Trans New England.

On her Facebook page, she posted in mourning of transgender homicide victims during last year’s Transgender Day of Remembrance and alluded to relationship struggles with her husband.

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