Kim Kardashian Tweeted The Wrong Photo Of A Black Trans Woman Who Was Killed. Her Family Asked For Days That She Delete It.
"Everyone else used the same picture of Riah except Kim, and it makes me question if she really cares about Black Trans Lives," Riah Milton's cousin told BuzzFeed News.
The deaths of two Black transgender women last week prompted a fresh wave of grief within LGBTQ communities already in mourning over the deadly violence against Black trans people across the country. On two separate days, Dominique "Rem'mie" Fells' dismembered body was found in Schuylkill River in Philadelphia, and Riah Milton was shot and killed in Liberty Township, Ohio.
Ariel Mary Ann was already dealing with the onslaught of news reports that misgendered and deadnamed Milton, her sister, when someone texted her a screenshot of a Human Rights Campaign statement on Milton's death on Friday.
She was appalled. Instead of a photo of Milton, the statement used one of her deceased aunt Shanna, a cis woman.
Mary Ann messaged Elliott Kozuch, whose byline was on the HRC piece, asking if they could remove the photo. "Can you please delete that article because the photo featured is NOT her," she wrote.
Kozuch apologized profusely, according to messages reviewed by BuzzFeed News. The HRC removed Shanna's photo, replacing it with a picture of a candle, and later issued an apology.
But Mary Ann told BuzzFeed News she was "completely shocked" to see that mistake amplified the next day by none other than Kim Kardashian West.
In a post meant to memorialize Fells and Milton, Kardashian West tweeted "BLACK TRANS LIVES MATTER!" to her 65.5 million followers, along with a graphic that had their names repeated in the background. The graphic included a photo of Fells and the same incorrect photo of Milton's aunt that the HRC had used.
"This added a whole other level of stress on top of everything else that I was dealing with," she said, "especially because I saw that the photo was being retweeted."
Mary Ann, who is also transgender, started calling friends and family asking them to tweet at Kardashian West to remove the photo.
She herself tweeted at Kardashian West multiple times over the weekend, pleading with her to remove the photo.
Shanna's daughter Maurisha, who said her mom died unexpectedly in April, was "very upset" when she saw Kardashian West's tweet. Maurisha declined to share her last name to protect her privacy.
"Everyone else used the same picture of Riah except Kim, and it makes me question if she really cares about Black Trans Lives. My mom and my cousin Riah do not look alike at all," Maurisha told BuzzFeed News.
She also repeatedly tweeted at Kardashian West, asking her to remove the post.
Kardashian West's tweet had more than 3,500 retweets and 22,000 likes by Tuesday. Her representative declined to comment, but the tweet was deleted after BuzzFeed News reached out. Kardashian West, who has used her platform to advocate for various causes in the past, did not immediately issue an apology after she deleted her tweet, and Mary Ann said she's upset "that it took this long" for her to remove it.
Alán Pelaez Lopez, the artist who created the graphic, was not credited in Kardashian's tweet. Lopez did not respond to a request for comment, but they have since removed the graphic from their social media accounts, citing the HRC as the source of the photo, and asked their followers to tweet at Kardashian West.
"I used a photo from a statement HRC ran 2 days ago to make an image. The photo is not Riah Milton. Please help me by reporting the tweet with the image that @KimKardashian made as its not a rt but a screen-cap," Lopez tweeted. "I don't want my mistake to cause more hurt."
After seeing the tweet on Saturday, Mary Ann reached out to Kozuch at the HRC again to ask where they got the photo of her aunt; she was told that a different team that handles images "identified the photo from [her] sister's Facebook cover photos."
Kozuch declined to comment and pointed BuzzFeed News to the HRC's apology.
The HRC has long faced criticism for failing to include transgender rights in its advocacy for LGBTQ protections, and for systemic issues stemming from its leadership's lack of diversity and inclusion. Last year, Alphonso David became the first person of color to become its president. Dozens of grassroots trans community leaders later wrote a letter inviting David for a discussion after he announced a new framework centering on the transgender community.
"The trans leaders signing this statement work day in and day out to build and strategize towards what liberation may look like for all of us — and HRC should not claim to lead this for us," they wrote.
Maurisha said the graphic contributes to the erasure of Black trans women, who already face disproportionate rates of deadly violence.
"It’s trendy to say that you support Black lives because nowadays you will get called out," she said.
For cis celebrities like Kardashian West, Maurisha said it's "easy for them to just post these graphics and act like they’re in solidarity with Black Trans Women and the Black Lives Matter movement and go on with their day without doing the actual work because it’s not directly affecting them."
Elle Hearns, executive director of the Marsha P. Johnson Institute, an advocacy group for Black trans people, said it's necessary to engage in activism and call out injustices, but a lot of people are "performing activism as opposed to really doing their due diligence to understand the social injustices" that Black trans women face.
Hearns said she wants people to spend more time "being mindful of who and what we show up for."
"Especially if it's for a moment," she added, "and not for a lifetime."