Longtime transgender activist and pioneer Cheryl Courtney-Evans, who has battled cancer and other health issues, died over the weekend.
The news of her death at age 64 shocked and saddened friends across the country who knew Courtney-Evans from her tireless advocacy work on transgender issues. She was executive director of Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth, an organization she helped launch in 2007 that served the needs of trans men and women.
Her advocacy work prompted Atlanta Pride in June to name Courtney-Evans as one of its 12 grand marshals of the pride parade.
Cheryl Courtney-Evans has been the Executive Director of Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth, Incorporated since 2007. In April, 2009, Ms. Courtney-Evans participated with over 200 transgender individuals, sponsored by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), in Lobby Days on Capital Hill in Washington, D.C. to lobby Congress members for passage of the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act with gender identity included as one of the protected groups, as well as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA). The former was signed into law in 2010. She is the recipient of the 2012 Pioneer Award, issued by the Transfaith In Color Conference & the Freedom Center for Social Justice, of Charlotte, NC.
In her role with TILTT, the first transgender support & advocacy organization to serve both trans men and women in the area, she has assisted and advocated for a broad swath of Atlanta’s transgender community, and participates in numerous human rights efforts in the greater Atlanta area.
Atlanta Pride said the organization will honor Courtney-Evans during the Trans March on Saturday and parade on Sunday.
"We are incredibly sad to hear about her passing and intend to honor her at both the Trans March and Parade and from the main stage as well," said Jamie Fergerson, Atlanta Pride's executive director.
Few details have been made public about Courtney-Evans' death. But she has battled cancer and other health issues for months. Plans are being made for a memorial service but those details have not yet been announced.
On Sept. 22, Courtney-Evans posted to Facebook that she was undergoing heart and lungs tests in the hospital. Two days later she had minor surgery.
In January, Courtney-Evans said she was battling lung cancer and had undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment. The details came in a Go Fund Me campaign she launched to secure funds to buy a used vehicle.
The problem over the years has been that on a personal level, I’ve had to move also, dependent (due to my fixed income) on obtaining affordable housing. This generally disrupted my outreach to my constituents, as I now lived an impossibly inconvenient distance from the epicenter of the nighttime transgender community and activity.
As we believe in serving the trans*community in a holistic manner, addressing a number of issues we face as a community, I have been greatly concerned with our street (and many times homeless) trans community, with the increase of inclement weather. We actually lost one of the girls we were ministering to due to pneumonia, and it drove the point home to me all the more, that these women need things like coats, sweaters and other pieces of clothing. I have been offering them these items when they come to our meetings, but as I have no way to transport them, can only ask that they drop by my house. This has not proven to be altogether a logical solution, so I’ve been casting about as to where I can obtain transportation so I can “take the help to them”. I have, on a number of occasions, had promises from people with cars/vans to take me, only to have the plan(s) fall through. Besides clothing, I hope to continue my condom distribution, as well as take someone to do HIV testing.
On a personal note, after my recent operation for lung cancer and my prolonged recovery from chemo/radiation, I’ve had need of (and difficulty with finding, at times) transportation to doctors’ appointments, grocery trips for my household, etc. With regard to occasions that regard a combination of T.I.L.T.T., Inc. and my ability [or inability], I continually get requests to speak and share my trans*experience(s) [now that I am recovered to some extent] for various events and panel discussions, that I find myself unable to make due to lack of transportation. So this transport would be a real boon to myself, T.I.L.T.T., Inc. and relief to any and all persons I’ve had to call upon for assistance with transportation. (Thanks to all who have come through for me to this point.)
Some 60 people raised $3,176 but the amount fell short of the campaign's $5,000 goal.
Courtney-Evans has been a fixture at the annual Rustin Lorde Breakfast each January that celebrates the legacy of activist Bayard Rustin and poet Audre Lorde on MLK Day. She has rallied against anti-trans violence outside a downtown MARTA station, criticized the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention for not including trans people in HIV prevention efforts, fought efforts to banish sex workers from Midtown and blogged at her site A Bitch for Justice.
Rev. Paul Turner, the founding pastor at Gentle Spirit Christian Church, has worked with Courtney-Evans on LGBT issues over the years and called her a "hero."
"Cheryl was a giant in the transgender community," Turner said. "She was direct, without filter and a fighter when it came to standing up and protecting her people. She was courageous beyond all measure and her love for our community knew no bounds. It was an honor to have worked with her and humbling to call her a friend. We have lost a heroic and courageous women."
Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, said he will miss talking politics with Courtney-Evans, as well as her "wit and biting commentary." He said the Rush Center, where TILT held its meetings, will work with the group to ensure that its efforts continue.
"The board and staff of Georgia Equality send our deepest sympathies to the friends and family of Cheryl Courtney-Evans and to all those who mourn her passing. We will continue to fight and advocate for the transgender community and people living with HIV in her memory." Graham said.
"On a personal level, I will miss Cheryl tremendously. She and I would often discuss politics and I will miss her keen wit and biting commentary in her blog. She was an important part of the Rush Center family and volunteered her time helping us paint and remodel during our many expansions over the years. We want to work closely with the membership of TILTT to ensure the organization has the support it needs in this difficult period of transition," he added.
Friends, activists and fellow trans advocates have turned Courtney-Evans' Facebook page into a tribute wall to remember her work and share their memories of her.