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A Young Black Trans Advocate Featured at SFMOMA Was Found Dead

Written by Peter-Astrid KaneUpdated at Jan. 25, 2023 • 6:10pmPublished Jan. 25, 2023 • 6:00pm
Ivory Nicole Smith, a well-known Black transgender activist and entrepreneur, was found dead in her apartment on Tuesday. She was 27. | Courtesy Karen Santos/Transgender District

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Ivory Nicole Smith, a well-known Black transgender activist and entrepreneur, was found dead in her apartment on Tuesday. She was 27.

A San Francisco native and Tenderloin resident, she had served as a program associate at the Transgender District and as a member of the Trans Advisory Committee with the city’s Office of Transgender Initiatives. At the time of her death, Smith was a site supervisor at the Taimon Booton Navigation Center, a trans-specific project of St. James Infirmary, the SF nonprofit that provides health care and resources to sex workers. 

As part of the Know Our Place campaign designed to showcase uplifting narratives about trans and gender-nonconforming people, Smith was one of several models whose faces appeared on BART trains and in other public places. 

In an Instagram post on Wednesday announcing Smith’s death, the Transgender District said the San Francisco Police Department investigation “is ongoing, but their preliminary assessment has ruled out foul play and homicide.”

The Standard has yet to hear back from the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office after requesting further information.

Ivory Nicole Smith, a well-known Black transgender activist and entrepreneur, was found dead in her apartment on Tuesday. She was 27. | Courtesy Karen Santos/Transgender District

On Friday, the Transgender District will hold a candlelit vigil for Smith at the intersection of Turk and Taylor streets in the Tenderloin, a historically important gathering place for the trans community. 

Smith was also part of SFMOMA’s SECA Art Award Exhibition, which is currently on view. For I am Very Lucky, Very Lucky to be Trans, the Oakland-based visual artist Marcel Pardo Ariza photographed her along with Bay Area trans leaders in the manner of Catholic saints, to highlight a sense of joy and tenderness in that community. SFMOMA plans to hold a vigil of its own at an unspecified date.

Jupiter Peraza, a trans activist who worked with Smith at the district, remembered her as “magnificent, a brilliant leader.”

“I got to spend a lot of time with Ivory,” Peraza told The Standard. “We’re around the same age, so we definitely shared a lot of the same dreams and aspirations for the future. I was always amazed by how she interacted with her community with the utmost grace and respect and love. She led with kindness.”

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Peter-Astrid Kane can be reached at [email protected]


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