Sage Smith in a selfie she took a month before she disappeared.

She Is One of Us: The Search for Sage Smith

Y.M. Carrington

By Y.M. Carrington, Lavender Kitchen Sink Collective

For the past couple of weeks, I have been talking with anyone who will listen about Sage Smith, the now twenty-one-year-old transgender Black woman who has been missing from her Charlottesville, Virginia home for nearly two years. Coincidentally, the anniversary of her disappearance falls on November 20, which is the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Since late summer, I have joined the community effort to raise public awareness about the disappearance of Sage Smith, helping Sage’s family and local CVille activists in fundraising, creating online media, and organizing events to draw attention to her case. As most activists know, grassroots organizing costs money. So that’s why the good folks at Wayside Center in Faber, VA are sponsoring the Find Sage Smith crowdfunding campaign on YouCaring that will raise desperately needed funds for the Smith family to restart their search efforts.

On Saturday, November 1st, we held a discussion at the African American Heritage Center in Charlottesville to draw public attention to Sage’s disappearance. Titled “Trans Visibility Trans Justice,” national trans activist CeCe McDonald spoke to the packed house about the systemic injustices of Sage’s disappearance and the neglectful, inadequate police response. In a society where Black trans women routinely face horrific discrimination and violence, the lack of substantive police response speaks to the gross marginalization that our deeply transphobic society perpetuates against trans women. (You can find the video of the event here.)

During the first few months after Sage went missing, police reports, news articles and other media consistently identified Sage as a male, described her using male pronouns, and used her masculine government name (a tactic LGBTQ activists refer to as “deadnaming”). While police and media claim that they are only reflecting the wishes of Sage’s family or noting her legal status in their reports and coverage, such gross misgendering has the effect of dehumanizing Sage as a person and trivializing the very real and immediate dangers she may be facing. In addition, failing to accurately report Sage’s gender identity has hampered search efforts. If the public does not understand that the missing person in question is a trans woman, and that she faces forms of violence that a cisgender person does not, then they will not understand the specific dangers that a trans Black woman like Sage may be navigating while she is missing.

Sage sitting on a fence near a playground in her Charlottesville neighborhood.

As the two-year anniversary of Sage’s disappearance approaches, I think about how her family back home in Charlottesville is struggling, traumatized by her absence and literally worried sick over what might have happened to her. It cannot be stated enough how shameful the treatment Sage’s family has received from state authorities is. Time and again when Sage’s parents, grandmother, and other relatives have tried to get answers from authorities, they have been brushed aside. I will never forget Sage’s grandmother Lolita Smith describing how rejected she felt when she spoke in front of the Charlottesville City Council about her granddaughter. Through all of their trauma and pain, Sage’s family members have been forgotten and ignored: by the CVille police, by city officials, by the larger CVille community, and by society at large. And most shamefully, they are ignored by the LGBTQ community, a community whose global movement for justice would not even exist without the forward-thinking resistance of trans women of color.

Sage sporting a glamorous look in a black-and-white selfie.

The trauma that Sage’s family is experiencing should not be theirs to bear alone. Sage is not just a beloved daughter, granddaughter, niece, cousin, aunt, and friend. She is one of us. She is every Black girl, trans girl, queer kid, and outsider who has ever struggled with their identity and finding their place in the world. She is borne of a legacy that includes Black, transfeminine, and womanist fighters for human rights and justice. She is a descendant of all those Black and Brown trans women who fought for basic human dignity at Compton’s Cafeteria and the Stonewall Inn. She is the descendant of enslaved Africans who toiled without end on Charlottesville and Albemarle County plantations, including the famous plantation of our over-romanticized third president. She is part of a Black LGBTQ legacy that has been indispensable to the project of freedom and justice struggles worldwide. But more importantly, she is a human being. She deserves to be safe, and nurtured, and loved. And she deserves a chance to return home. As LGBTQ elders in the community, it is our duty to help bring her home to her family.

Please support the effort to find Sage Smith and bring her home to her family. Share the YouCaring “Find Sage Smith” page widely among your networks. And please donate to the campaign if you are able to. Let’s all help bring Sage home where she belongs.

    Y.M. Carrington

    Written by

    Black feminist, Jewish Communist. Enby queer theorist. Studies Anglocolonialism, labor, and power.

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