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Kendall Stephens survived a violent attack in her own South Philly home during the last week of August, keeping her name off the growing list of Black trans women killed in Philadelphia.
She didn’t escape unscathed. The 34-year old ended up with her nose fractured in two places, bruised ribs and a gash in her head. A week and a half later, she still couldn’t feel her teeth.
The brutal attack, which started as a fight on the street and spilled into her Point Breeze doorway, didn’t come as a huge shock. Stephens has been a victim before, targeted at past jobs, by past romantic partners and strangers in her neighborhood.
She’s more surprised she came out of the attack alive.
“Whenever someone approaches me in any kind of way that I think might be violent, I’m thinking, is this the day that I’m going to be murdered?” Stephens told Billy Penn. “This is what so many of us are thinking in our minds. This is not normal.”
As much as anyone can be prepared to handle this kind of discrimination, Stephens is well-equipped. She’s the facilitator of a trans support group, a board member at the William Way LGBTQ Community Center and a social work and public health student at Temple.
Black trans women endure acts of violence on a strikingly regular basis, in the city and around the U.S.
Philadelphian Dominique Rem’mie Fells was murdered along the banks of the Schuylkill River in June. A year before that, in May 2019, Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington was shot to death in North Philly. Shantee Tucker suffered the same fate in Hunting Park in the fall of 2018. Police also investigated the suspicious death of West Philadelphia trans woman Alicia Simmons last November.
“If I have to bleed a little bit to advocate for myself, I will,” Stephens said. “I’m proud I was still able to do that despite all the trauma that I was going through, the pain I was enduring.”
Door kicked in, with a 12-year-old watching
(Note: An upsetting photo of Stephens after the attack is below.)
The attack against Stephens started late on the night of Monday Aug. 24, when she was prepping notes for her second day of classes at Temple.
She heard a ruckus outside and went to investigate, finding a handful of neighbors throwing bottles and arguing.
She moved to call 911, she said, and that’s when six neighbors ganged up on her. Stephens tried to close her front door, but they pushed through and followed her inside — punching, kicking and at one point throwing a decorative wooden planter.
All the while, Stephens’ 12-year-old goddaughter watched.
Falling in and out of consciousness, Stephens realized she’d have to physically escape to survive. She pried herself away from the group of attackers and hid in the basement. When she heard them leave, she came back upstairs and called the police. She eventually made it to the hospital, spoke to a detective and tended to her injuries.
It was terrifying, but not unanticipated. “Throughout my life, in me living in my truth, this is par for the course,” Stephens said.
Goal: Become an advocate for trans people citywide
The sad advice she offers to others in her position: Just don’t be your full self — at least not in spaces where you don’t feel safe.
She recommends monitoring your household and your neighborhood for transphobia, and if you find it, temper your authenticity. Seek out safe environments, like her support group, to be truly who you truly are.
“You have to gauge the temperament of the community you’re in,” Stephens said. “If you can use this space to live gloriously in your truth, you’re getting at least some sort of validation here, we’d rather you do it here than out there and be harmed.”
It’s at best a band-aid solution, because LGBTQ people denying their identity can also be dangerous. Trans youth who are misidentified report higher rates of depression and suicide.
The big-picture solution, in Stephens’ eyes, is better hate crime legislation and more prominent leaders speaking up to say that violence against trans people of color won’t be tolerated.
She herself hopes to get into local government and become an advocate.
“I’ve seen what happens when the community rallies behind you, lifts you up, builds you up,” Stephens said. “I really want to be in a position where I’m able to have a platform where I can reach the masses.”