A celebration of life for 17-year-old Nikki Kuhnhausen, a Vancouver transgender girl who was killed last year, will be held Sunday at Clark College.
Justice For Nikki — a grassroots group of activists, transgender community members and parents of trans youth — organized the event with Kuhnhausen’s mother, Lisa Woods.
“We want to honor her memory and help Nikki’s mom grieve during this hard time, to just have a day where Nikki could be remembered by her family and her community in a celebratory way,” said Mikki Gillette, a fundraiser for Basic Rights Oregon who is working with the group.
The celebration will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the college, 1933 Fort Vancouver Way, in Gaiser Hall. Clark College Chief Communications Officer Kelly Love said the college offered the hall so the event has enough space if a large number of people show up.
Kuhnhausen disappeared in early June. Her remains were discovered Dec. 7 after someone reported finding a human skull in the woods at Larch Mountain, southeast of Battle Ground.
David Y. Bogdanov of Vancouver is accused of second-degree murder in Kuhnhausen’s death. Authorities allege the 25-year-old man strangled Kuhnhausen after learning she was transgender. His trial is set for July 6.
In addition to murder, prosecutors have filed a single count of malicious harassment against Bogdanov — now legally called a hate-crime offense in Washington. The charge was added under its former name — which was changed during the last legislative session — because the crime is suspected to have happened after the law’s refinement, which included adding “gender identity or expression” to the state’s list of protected categories.
If Bogdanov is convicted, Kuhnhausen would be among 26 trans people murdered last year in the United States according to the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group and political lobbying organization in the nation.
Since the advocacy group started tracking anti-transgender violence about seven years ago, an average of at least 22 transgender and gender non-conforming people have been victims of fatal violence each year. More than 90 percent of the victims are black women; 81 percent are younger than 30.
The event Sunday is one of three initiatives that Justice For Nikki has been focusing its efforts on, Gillette said.
The group wants to ensure her alleged killer is held accountable for his actions and that legislators pass House Bill 1687, the Nikki Kuhnhausen Act. The bill would block a defendant from using a panic defense based on discovery or disclosure of the victim’s actual or perceived gender or sexual orientation. More specifically, the bill would prevent a claim of “diminished capacity” because the defendant did not fully comprehend the nature and gravity of the alleged crime.
The Senate passed the bill Wednesday, with three lawmakers voting against its passage.
In general, Justice For Nikki wants to guarantee that Kuhnhausen’s life and untimely death are remembered by the public.
“It’s really tragic that her life ended in this violent way, via hate crime, and we don’t want it to be the last word on what happened,” Gillette said.