Nona Conner, a Black trans activist who fought for the rights of trans women and sex workers, died unexpectedly on May 13 in Washington, D.C. She was 37. While Conner’s cause of death remains unknown, no foul play is suspected, the Washington Post reported.
Conner worked as the program manager for Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS), an organization working to build community safety for Black, trans, queer, and nonbinary people. She also organized for No Justice No Pride (NJNP), a trans justice collective fighting for systemic change. In a tribute to Conner posted to the CASS website, executive director Je’Kendria Trahan called her “a compelling and irreplaceable force that illuminated each space she entered.”
“Words cannot describe the magnitude of Nona’s significance in our lives,” Trahan added.
The tribute also discussed Conner’s challenging last days, which she spent fundraising for her own medical care and basic needs, as well as for safer housing to escape abusive living situations. “Make no mistake: Many systems failed Nona,” Trahan wrote, “and in some ways, our own community failed her. Nona deserved care and protection, and material support that was abundant and unconditional.”
Trahan also asked the community to honor Conner by continuing to fight for the communities she cared for so deeply.
“We all have a responsibility to go out of our way to make sure Black trans women and sex workers are abundantly cared for – that they have safe housing, the ability to have their material needs more than met, and the autonomy to thrive in all the ways they desire. We owe that to Nona, and to every Black trans woman in our lives.”
Conner was vocal about the struggles she endured throughout her life, from housing insecurity and violence to survival sex work. In 2016, she told the Washington City Paper about being stabbed 48 times by a man angry at her for refusing to perform a sex act he requested. When the man fled, Connor was miraculously able to walk two full blocks to find help.
“I’m a survivor and not a victim,” Nona said while telling the story, then repeating it for emphasis. “I’m not a victim. I’m a survivor.”
A GoFundMe for her memorial service has far surpassed its initial $15,000 dollar goal and has raised over $25,000 as of Friday afternoon. The extra funding will likely benefit the communities Conner spent her life advocating for. “She was a bright star in so many people’s lives, a hopeless romantic, an enthusiastic cheerleader, a wise soul,” the fundraiser says, “and she was loved.”