With fistfuls of pink and blue balloons – the colors of the transgender flag – friends gathered outside a drop-in center last week to memorialize Bonaire “Bonnie” Black, a transgender teen living on the streets who was found dead on New Year’s Eve.
The death of Black, 19, is under investigation by the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s office. There were no signs of foul play, according to an incident report from Atlanta police, but people who knew Black said she was killed during an argument.
Black was at least the fifth trans or gender non-conforming person to be killed or die under questionable circumstances in Georgia in 2020.
The body of Black, 19, was found on the third floor of the parking garage at the Georgian Terrace on Peachtree Street in Midtown, according to an incident report. An employee found her laying under a blanket with her fist clenched at about 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 31.
When a hotel manager and another employee couldn’t wake Black, they called police. A police report described the incident as a “natural death.” Officer Sharetia Thomas, the police officer who responded to the hotel’s call, wrote in an incident report that an employee of the medical examiner called to the scene “advised me there was no foul play.”
An investigator with the medical examiner’s office told Project Q Atlanta that an autopsy was performed but declined to discuss details of the investigation. It could be six weeks before a lab returns toxicology test results to the medical examiner’s office.
An Atlanta police spokesperson told Project Q that its investigators are awaiting the results of the medical examiner’s investigation.
“In a case like this, the medical examiner’s office will conduct an autopsy to determine the cause of death. If the cause of death is determined to be criminal, APD will investigate,” said TaSheena Brown, a senior police officer and agency spokesperson.
Advocates for homeless and transgender people said Black was murdered.
“What we’re hearing is that a guy at the party, they got in some kind of argument, and he broke her neck,” said Marshall Rancifer of the Justice for All Coalition.
“She had dreams and aspirations that are not going to come to fruition – all because some stupid son of a bitch decided to take her life over an argument,” he added.
Jesse Pratt López, a trans activist and founder of the Trans Housing Coalition, also said Black was murdered.
“Details surrounding her death are unclear and the assailant has not been caught,” López wrote in a Facebook post.
Rancifer said friends of Black told him that she and others from Covenant House, a private shelter that houses youth, were partying together in a hotel before her death. In a Dec. 29 post on Facebook, Black said she attended a party overnight.
Rancifer did not know if the party Black attended before her death was at the Georgian Terrace, but he didn’t believe Black was killed in the hotel parking garage.
“Things are really sketchy,” he said.
Rancifer attended a memorial service that friends of Black held Jan. 12 at Covenant House, which is on Johnson Road in West Midtown. Black stayed at Covenant House in the past. Executives with Covenant House did not respond to an inquiry from Project Q Atlanta.
“She was a nice person. She was trying to get her life together just like all of them kids over there trying to get their lives together,” Rancifer told Project Q.
‘She was trying to help people’
On Jan. 21, friends and transgender activists gathered at Da Cribb Drop In Center on Boulevard for a balloon drop to commemorate Black. They described her as an artist, songwriter and rapper.
“She loved doing her makeup and going out into the world making sure she looked her best,” Toni Bryce, a community health outreach worker with the National AIDS Education & Services for Minorities (NAESM), said during the event.
“She was a young girl taken very soon,” she added.
Black was a client at Da Cribb, which NAESM operates, for more than two years, Bryce told Project Q. Staff at the facility last saw her on or about Dec. 28, she added.
Black was living on the streets at the time of her death and would sometimes sleep on Da Cribb’s porch, Bryce said.
“Every day we were open, she would come in and utilize the services we had,” she added.
Black was from Savannah and relocated to Atlanta at 17, according to trans activists. Bryce said she was trying to find a job and housing. But even facing difficult circumstances, Black still tried to help others in need.
“When she was trying to find housing, she was trying to help people. She was definitely always trying to help somebody else that was in her situation,” Bryce said.
Graveside services were held for Black on Jan. 21 at Lakeside Memorial Gardens in Palmetto, according to an online obituary.
Black is among at least five transgender and non-conforming people who died in Georgia in 2020. Kimberely Patricia Cope, 40, was found dead in a restaurant parking lot a few hundred feet from her apartment in Athens on Dec. 27. Felycya Harris, 33, was shot to death in an Augusta park in October. KaKedius “Rebel” Reid, 31, died of a possible drug overdose on Aug. 29, according to the National Black Justice Coalition. Scottlyn Kelly Devore, 51, was choked to death and dumped in a wooded area near Augusta in March.
Black, Cope and Harris are black trans women. Devore is gender non-conforming and white. Reid is a black trans man.
At least 44 trans or non-conforming people died by violence in the U.S. in 2020, according to the Human Rights Campaign. Some 51 trans and non-conforming people were “lost to violence and hate” last year, according to the National Black Justice Coalition.