Acey Morrison is honored at the Transgender Day of Remembrance Service

The family of Acey D. Morrison, a 30-year-old Two Spirit person who was shot dead in Rapid City on August 21, wants people to remember Acey as kind, down to earth, cheerful, respectful and loving.

“She was the go-to resource for all of us,” her mother, Edelyn Catches, told the Argus Leader. “When I talk about Acey, my chest starts to hurt. I want justice (for them).”

Morrison’s family, friends and other members of South Dakota’s LGBTQ+ community are invited to commemorate their life in Sioux Falls this Transgender Memorial Day weekend. Two-Spirit is an LGBTQ+ identity specific to indigenous peoples.

The Transformation Project, Sioux Falls Pride, Equality South Dakota, Calvary Episcopal Cathedral, local attorneys and Indigenous parishioners will hold a transgender memorial service in honor of Morrison Sunday at 4 p.m. at Calvary Episcopal Cathedral.

Morrison’s family previously held a two-day wake-up service for her beginning August 31 and a funeral in Oglala on September 2 with traditional Lakota services, and she was buried at Catches Family Cemetery in Pine Ridge.

While Catches and Morrison’s cousin Casey Morton were only informed of the upcoming service when the Argus leader contacted them, they said they hope to make the trip from Oglala to Sioux Falls to tell Morrison’s story.

“Always so loving and charismatic”

According to her obituary, Morrison was born on July 14, 1992 in Pine Ridge. When she was younger, “She went through all the things everyone else does,” Catches said, writing affirmations to herself and showing them around her room to “build herself up.”

“She wanted to build others and help people,” Catches said. “She always bent over backwards to help whoever needed help.”

Whether Morrison worked in Rapid City at the Country Inn & Suites as a housekeeper or at the local Sam’s Club, Catches said Morrison was genuinely organized and responsible.

More:“Called to Serve”: Why These Gay, Non-Binary Two Spirits Faith Leaders Stayed to Preach in SD

Morrison also had the “loveliest laugh” and a good sense of humor, Catches said.

Morton said Morrison was full of life and love, the most important person in the lives of multitudes and a best friend to many.

“Acey was just always so loving and charismatic,” Morton said. “Being with her was incredible because she would always lift you up no matter what. If you were having a bad day, you would call Acey. She was always so lively. How can you hate someone who has no negativity at all?”

Morrison was a party planner, made sure everyone in her family was taken care of, and always had an open heart and home, Morton added.

“She is really missed,” he said.

Morton drew parallels to Morrison’s death and that of Jamie Lee Wounded Arrow, a Sioux Falls resident, trans woman and Oglala Lakota citizen who died on New Year’s Day 2017 after Joshua Rayvon LeClaire stabbed her seven times. LeClaire was sentenced to 65 years in prison in 2018 after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter.

More:‘She never had the opportunity to blossom’: The 2016 stabbing victim worked to transform her life

Morton and Catches are still struggling to get answers from local police as to what happened and who, if anyone, is being charged. Above all, they want justice for Morrison.

“The information provided to us by investigators and the police does not add up,” Morton said. “I think it’s a hate crime. It is also an issue of MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women). It hits so many different things. All of these things are a factor in what could have happened that night. It’s sad to say, but we don’t really know what happened.”

“How can someone take someone’s life and not have to answer for it?” Morton asked.

History of Transgender Memorial Day

Each year, Transgender Memorial Day honors the memory of those murdered in anti-transgender violence.

It is commemorated in late November in recognition of the 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a highly visible member of the trans community in Boston, where she was involved in education and trans issues. She was killed on November 28, 1998, and almost two decades later, police have still not found Hester’s killer.

In 1999, a year after Rita’s murder, attorney and writer Gwendolyn Ann Smith organized a vigil in Hester’s honor to commemorate not just her but everyone who died from anti-trans violence.

The Transformation Project said in a press release that violence against trans people is a pervasive and ongoing problem, but that the trans community is diverse and resilient in the face of the harassment and violence it faces.

More:The transgender community celebrated in Sioux Falls during Transgender Visibility Day

According to a Human Rights Campaign report, Morrison became at least the 32nd trans or gender non-conforming person to be violently killed in the United States and Puerto Rico in 2022.

Data from the 2015 US Transgender Survey shows that Native American and Alaskan-born trans people are disproportionately exposed to violence and discrimination. Almost one in five people have been physically attacked in the past year because they are trans.

Another 2021 report by the Sovereign Bodies Institute and the California Rural Indian Health Board describes that 90% of a sample of Indigenous LGBTQ+ and Two Spirit people reported experiencing two or more forms of violence.

2021 was the deadliest year on record for transgender and gender nonconforming people in the United States, and transgender women of color were disproportionately affected by the violence.