Arrest in attack on Kendall Stephens, Black trans woman beat up in her Point Breeze home

There’s no hate crime charge — because queer and trans people aren’t a protected class in Pennsylvania.

Kendall Stephens is a 34-year-old Temple student who wants to advocate for others

Kendall Stephens is a 34-year-old Temple student who wants to advocate for others

Courtesy Kendall Stephens

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A suspect has been arrested in the attack of Black trans woman Kendall Stephens this summer in her Point Breeze home, a spokesperson from the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office confirmed.

Tymesha Wearing was arraigned on Thursday and charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, reckless endangering of another person, criminal trespassing, possible instrument of crime with intention, and conspiracy, according to court filings. Wearing’s bail was set at $100,000 (of which she’d have to pay 10% to be released). A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 14.

Video footage from Stephens’ door camera captures multiple people entering her home and attacking her. No other suspects appear to have been arrested in the case so far.

“I’m very relieved,” Stephens said, through tears, after hearing of the arrest on Friday morning. “I have not gotten a wink of sleep since this whole ordeal. Hopefully tonight will be a night I can finally close my eyes and rest.”

Stephens said her attacker hurled transphobic slurs, but Wearing isn’t being charged with a hate crime. She couldn’t be, because queer and trans people aren’t a protected class in Pennsylvania.

The alleged attacker does face an ethnic intimidation charge, which in Pa. applies to categories like race, religion and national origin. A Philadelphia law allows the District Attorney to charge a summary offense for a hate crime committed against LGBTQ people, but it can’t be brought as a full misdemeanor or felony.

“This is why we need policy change in Pennsylvania,” Stephens said. “Because as long as the Commonwealth does not have hate crime legislation on the books that protects against people who are trans-identified, then these sort of targeted attacks will continue to happen with impunity.”

A month later, she’s still feeling the aftermath, she added. “I’m still reeling from the entire ordeal.”

The 34-year old social work and public health Temple grad student ended up with her nose fractured in two places, bruised ribs and a gash in her head after the late August incident. A week and a half later, she still couldn’t feel her teeth.

The brutal attack started late the night of Monday Aug. 24, when Stephens 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.

Stephens, the facilitator of a trans support group and a board member at the William Way LGBTQ Community Center, said she was surprised she survived.

“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 in September. “This is what so many of us are thinking in our minds. This is not normal.”

Black trans women endure acts of violence on a strikingly regular basis, in Philadelphia 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.

In the weeks following the attack, social media swirled with conspiracy theories that Stephens actually initiated the attack, and Wearing was defending herself. The discourse quickly got ugly — with plenty of folks dropping transphobic sentiments in their comments.

“I think the most unfortunate aspect of this was some of the divisiveness within my own community. That’s what really hurt the most,” Stephens said. “The way I’m looking at it is, if this person was a victim in any way, then she should’ve turned herself in and gave an account with detectives, and she did not.”

Meantime, Stephens said since the attack, she’s been tapped for a few speaking engagements: a special with Vice TV and a speech at the virtual National Trans Visibility March in October. Though heartwarming, she said these honors haven’t made it any easier to cope with the attack.

“I’m really just glad she’s been caught,” Stephens said. “I’ve been struggling with this. I hope this nightmare comes to an end and justice is served.”

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