Tonya Harvey was the fourth known transgender woman who was murdered in 2018; Tonya’s case initially grabbed media attention until she was all but forgotten.
Tonya was known by her close friends as a faithful Christian and a bold and talented singer-songwriter who had an incredible stage presence that people couldn’t help but admire. Her life was tragically cut short on February 6, 2018, when Tonya was only 35 years old, making her the fourth transgender woman of color killed in 2018 in what police think may have been a hate crime.
Tonya Harvey: A Fearless Trailblazer
Tonya Harvey, whose dear friends called her Kita, grew up in Buffalo, New York, and attended Lafayette High School. Tonya was known for being a fantastic dancer, performer, as well as a skillful singer-songwriter. Also a gifted writer, Tonya was known in her circle as a “showstopper” and a faithful Christian.
Tonya also struggled with drug abuse at the time of her death and occasionally offered her services as an escort for money. Known and loved by many in the Buffalo LGBTQIA+ community, Tonya Harvey’s death represented a greater epidemic in the United States: a rash of brutal murders of transgender women of color.
A Life Cut Short
Shortly before 5:30 PM on Tuesday, February 6, 2018, Tonya was shot dead on a dead-end street, Shepard Street, in Buffalo. She was shot six times: in the head, neck, buttocks, groin, and back by an assailant who has still not been identified. In the immediate time period following her murder, Buffalo trans activist Ari Moore responded, saying, “The hatred, the bigotry, and the aggressive attacks on trans people is almost an everyday occurrence in our lives.” Tonya, a beautiful, radiant, and very loved woman in and of herself was the fourth transgender woman of color murdered in 2018—making her also representative of hate crimes carried out against the trans community.
Media Attention Dwindles
The Erie County District Attorney’s Office released a statement following Tonya’s murder, with a spokeswoman saying the office is “extremely concerned about a spike of homicides of transgender people across the country and will be, as part of this investigation, looking into whether or not this is a potential hate crime.” No further statements were released on the matter, and the investigation never had any leads disclosed to the public.
Now, four years after Tonya’s untimely death, media attention has dwindled significantly, and no new leads have been reported in some time. The Buffalo Police Department has also not formally declared Tonya’s murder a hate crime—a slight which some think is a massive oversight given the manner of death and Tonya’s identity as a trans woman of color.
Where Tonya Harvey’s Case Stands Today
In October 2018, eight months after Tonya’s death, her family offered a $4,000 reward to anyone who could bring forth information leading to an arrest or indictment in Tonya’s murder case. In 2019, just over a year after Tonya’s death, loved ones held a remembrance rally in her honor at Buffalo Town Hall—showing that, though the police investigation may be stalled and the media may have moved on, Tonya was a known and loved member of the Buffalo LGBTQIA+ community whose death will not be forgotten.