Feature writing

LGBT Issues

Transgender, murdered, and missed: remembering TeeTee Dangerfield

The Daily Beast

August 11, 2017

On the third floor of Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport there is an interfaith chapel. It will be there that Friday, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., colleagues, friends, and customers of TeeTee Dangerfield will gather throughout the day to remember her, with speeches dedicated to her taking place between 2 and 4 p.m.

Dangerfield’s funeral will take place in New Orleans on Saturday. The same day there will be another memorial event in East Point, Georgia.

The 32-year-old restaurant server and union shop steward was shot and killed in the early hours of July 31. Atlanta police are still searching for Dangerfield’s assailant or assailants.

Dangerfield was, according to the Anti-Violence Project, the 17th transgender person to be killed in the U.S. this year: Sixteen have been people of color; 15 have been transgender women; and 13 have been black transgender women. Atlanta police have not stated yet whether they know Dangerfield’s murder to be a hate crime.

For the last three years, Dangerfield had worked at the airport’s Mustard Seed restaurant, and—after successfully representing fellow staff in grievances with management—had recently become a shop steward. She had also just bought a three-bedroom house and was a happy, vivacious person beloved of her colleagues.

Nadia Taylor, a union organizer for UNITE HERE Local 23 in Atlanta, told The Daily Beast that Dangerfield had worked at the airport for about 12 years, the last three years as a server in Mustard Seed, a BBQ outlet run by the company Delaware North.

This week Local 23 put out a moving statement expressing its sadness at Dangerfield’s death, its determination to protect LGBTQ members, and why the “epidemic” of trans killings needed to stop.

“Colleagues loved her. She was a very sweet person, very honest, and when she needed to speak up she spoke up,” said Taylor. “She was definitely seen as an upcoming union leader.”

Before becoming a shop steward, as a “leader” Dangerfield had already represented colleagues in various disputes with management.

“People would go to her when they had concerns or trouble. She would be their voice. She was amazing,” said Taylor.


‘TeeTee Had Your Back’

Taylor recalled that a lot of times Dangerfield, known by colleagues as Miss TeeTee, would deal with the cases and only tell her union colleagues about them after she had done so. Many complaints never made it to full grievances as Dangerfield found a solution for all parties.

“It was tough. It still is,” Taylor said of learning of Dangerfield’s murder. “We came to the airport to meet with her around 2 o’clock that afternoon.”

At first Taylor and her union colleagues thought Dangerfield might be running late. Then her death was confirmed.

“It was shock, I’m still in shock,” said Taylor. “I’m mad and angry that somebody took a life so young. She had so much promise. You couldn’t know TeeTee and not love her. She didn’t stay mad at you. She didn’t let things bother her.

“TeeTee had your back, 100 percent. That’s what the workers knew. She was very much ‘Stand together, and I’ll be there with you.’ I never saw TeeTee where she was not smiling or not happy. She was very proud of who she was. She always looked good. People gravitated towards her because she was so happy.”

Dangerfield became more professionally attached to her union last year, having observed a set of contract negotiations unfold. “You know, I want to know more about the union and how can I get involved,” she said to Taylor afterward. “I know a lot of servers and bartenders, and they don’t have people to represent them. How can I be that person?”

After Dangerfield’s death, Taylor said, people stood on the airport concourse crying. “They were absolutely heartbroken. These were just general people who know her, not just her fellow workers.”

When Taylor heard how Dangerfield had been murdered, the possibility that it was an anti-transgender hate crime crossed her mind.

“I said to myself, ‘Can that be the reason that somebody could do something like this? The LGBTQ community in Atlanta seems open and proud. It’s very sad if it’s a hate crime.”


‘Make the Coins’

Tracy Walker, a UNITE HERE Local 23 leader who recruited Dangerfield to be a shop steward and was a friend of hers of three years’ standing, was emotional as she recalled Dangerfield.

“She was a lady. She never got mad. She was never out of character. She was wonderful. She wasn’t uncomfortable with herself. She was a queen. Marvelous. Always respectful. There would be customers come from all over who would ask for her personally.”

The pair had met one day on the airport concourse. Delaware North management “loved her,” said Walker. “She was warm and a leader. The place had a manager and supervisor, but she was running it.

“You never caught her depressed or caught her mad. When her colleagues got mad, she’d say, ‘Honey, make your money and leave those folks alone. Don’t let drama get to you, honey. Just do what you need to do. Make the coins. That’s what you gotta do: Make the coins.”

Walker, who works as a cook at Garbanzo restaurant at the airport, laughed. “Make the coins,” she said, was Dangerfield’s favorite catchphrase.

When her colleagues were stressed, Dangerfield told them, said Walker: “You make some coins. You got a job you gotta do, and that job is to make money, not get mad. Not argue.”

“She was a mother, a sister, an auntie to everybody,” said Walker. “She’d go to bat for you. She was very out and proud. She didn’t have any problems. She would say, ‘I am who I am. If you don’t like it, oh well, sweetie, that’s just me.’”

As far as Walker knew, Dangerfield was single. The day she died, Walker had texted her to meet her at the airport’s food court. Then she discovered Dangerfield had been murdered.

“I sat in my car at the airport and cried,” said Walker. “Now I’m dealing. I don’t understand how someone could do this to a person who would never even call you a name. She was just a lady at all times. I would say to her that I didn’t understand how she could be so cheerful. She would say, ‘When I come to work I have to put my acting face on. When my acting face is on I don’t see nothing but coins.’

“I’m a cook, dealing with employees and customers all the time. Sometimes it’s so hard to put that face on. But TeeTee never had that problem, she had that smile on her face. She would have a glow about her, oh my god.” Walker laughed warmly. “‘Hey, baby,’ she would say. ‘How you doing, baby?’”


A Natural Leader

Before she got involved in union work, Dangerfield told Walker, “I’m kind of scared of how they’re going to take me.”

Walker told her: “They’re going to be OK. Everyone knows who you are, Miss TeeTee.” Walker paused. “She thought she would not be accepted because of her being transgender. But when she came, everyone just showed her love. She said to me, ‘I should have done this earlier.’ I said, ‘Yes, didn’t I tell you Local 23 is one big family? We take care of each other.’ She felt so much better.”

Walker remembered her friend warmly. “To see her you’ll love her,” Walker said. “She was always dressed beautifully, nothing was out of place. Her hair was fierce, her nails fierce, she was just lovely, lovely, lovely.”

Walker laughed as she recalled going shopping with Dangerfield to a mall one day, Dangerfield’s striking looks catching the appreciative attention of a gentleman on an opposite elevator.

Walker had visited Dangerfield’s new house two weeks before her death, even though Dangerfield insisted she wasn’t ready for visitors. “She said, ‘You’ll see me, not TeeTee,” recalled Walker. The house, in the Riverdale suburb of the city, had three bedrooms and a one-car garage.

“The house was so beautiful,” said Walker. “Everything was gray and white. We asked if we needed to take our shoes off. TeeTee was worried it wasn’t clean enough, but it was as clean as a whistle. You couldn’t tell she had two dogs. She kept saying, ‘I’m close to the airport.’ I said, ‘Yes, you are.’ It had just been built. She was living there on her own.

“The last thing I remember her saying was that her nephew wanted an iPhone. She was saying, ‘I’m going to get it for him.’ It would have been a surprise for him for Christmas.”

Dangerfield, said Walker, was very close to her mother, Yolander. (The Daily Beast has contacted the Dangerfield family, and we will update the story with comment from them if and when they wish to speak to us.)

“When a momma has to bury her kid, that’s so hard,” said Walker. “I have a daughter. That momma really needs time to heal. My heart breaks for her family.”

Walker believes Dangerfield’s murder was a hate crime. Dangerfield was driving a 2017 car, and if the motive was robbery, Walker believes the perpetrators would have stolen it.

“I would like to see stricter laws on hate crime,” said Walker, “and I would like to see who did this caught and brought to justice. I really want to see that.”

Now at the airport, said Walker, “Everybody is sad, the first week was pretty rough. Lots of people were calling in off.” A colleague of Dangerfield’s had to tell a customer, who had asked for Dangerfield, what had happened. “The customer just sat there crying,” said Walker.

The manager of the restaurant cannot bring themselves to hire anyone to fill Dangerfield’s position, at least right now, said Walker. “She’s very irreplaceable.”

Maybe later, Walker added, Mustard Seed could put up Dangerfield’s picture. “Or do something in her name, just to remember who she was. I would like to see them do something.”

Walker repeated quietly, “There should be more, stricter laws especially on crimes against transgender people.”

Then, her voice breaking, Walker said she was about to cry.