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Nona Conner begins the story of how she was stabbed at least 48 times.
A man asked Nona, a D.C. native, to have a cigarette. She agreed. He must have known she is transgender, Nona reasons. “Once someone finds out—you tell one person—the entire neighborhood knows,” she says.
He asked her if she would give him a blowjob—in cruder terms. When she said no, he produced a butcher knife and plunged it into her body. He dragged her into an abandoned building, and kept stabbing her until she was on the ground. Nona must have appeared lifeless, she says, because he walked away.
“I prayed to God, ‘Please, Lord, make him stop’—and he did,” she says. “I was in excruciating pain.”
At this point, Nona stops her story. She apologizes through tears before continuing.
Bleeding, Nona walked two blocks until her assailant’s brother found her and came to her aid. When police arrived on the scene, people from the neighborhood who had gathered told the officers Nona was a woman. No, another said, she’s a man. As Nona floated in and out of consciousness, she heard the officers misgender her—“what’s his name?” The officers were “too concerned over whether or not I was a man or woman,” she says, adding that the paramedics who transported her to a local hospital were respectful and called her ma’am.
Just six hours later, police found her assailant. (He was convicted of aggravated assault and is currently serving a 10-year prison sentence.) Doctors at the hospital stopped counting Nona’s stab wounds after No. 48.
“I’m survivor and not a victim,” Nona tells me. She repeats it: “I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor.”
Nona, who had worked occasionally at Casa Ruby—a nonprofit for transgender Washingtonians started by local trans icon Ruby Corado—was living in supportive housing, but the house failed inspection earlier this year, and she became homeless. The mental-health organization she was connected to couldn’t find her another place, so a friend at Whitman-Walker Health introduced her to Jessica Raven, executive director of Collective Action for Safe Spaces. What Nona thought would be a couple of days staying with Raven has turned into months.
“She’s didn’t know me from Adam,” Nona says of Raven. “She’s been a blessing in that way.”
Now CASS, D.C.’s only anti–street harassment nonprofit, wants to hire Nona.
Raven says CASS has long sought to hire a trans person of color to its staff, pointing to the “severe and frequent” harassment and violence trans women experience in D.C. A 2015 needs assessment by the D.C. Trans Coalition found that 74 percent of those surveyed had been verbally assaulted, 42 percent physically, and 35 percent sexually. Harassment is worse for transfeminine individuals and trans persons of color, the survey found. Nona herself is a self-described triple minority: She’s black, gay, and trans.
CASS didn’t have the position in its budget this year, but Raven says her connection with Nona inspired the nonprofit to raise funds for the job sooner. The group is using the hashtag #HireNona to ask donors to pledge money for the position through Do More 24, an online fundraiser organized by the United Way of the National Capital Area that will take place on June 2.
“We know it’s important to have someone with her insights and experiences guiding our work,” Raven says, adding that Nona will help tailor and put on workshops for trans people, especially trans women of color, “on how to respond to harassment.” CASS will also conduct a trans needs assessment of its own.
Nona lived through an extreme form of violence, but she says she experiences harassment on a daily basis and fears being attacked. When she meets a man, for example, she’ll wait to tell him she’s transgender until they speak on the phone. “I’m so fearful,” she says. “Most men view us as sex objects.”
Nona wants to use her role at CASS to combat myths about transgender women—that “we’re all street walkers,” that they’re “lustful creatures,” that “they want to have sex and take our men.”
“Most importantly, I want people to be aware that we’re not a threat,” she says. “We’re no different than the next individual. We want to live in harmony.”
Nona says she wants to see women like her throw off the “transgender mark” that separates them from other women, that “puts us in a box.”
“We’re in enough boxes as it is.”