Brianna ‘BB’ Hill Had an Unbreakable Bond With Her Chosen Family
A sense of belonging and support was key to her survival
This story is part of Know Their Names, a collection of articles illuminating and celebrating the lives of Black Trans women.
Brianna “BB” Hill was part of “The Dior Family” in Kansas City. Like many Transgender women who find themselves alone on the streets, BB created a strong bond with her chosen family.
Activists say the ritual of creating your own family highlights the perilous situation BB and many in the Transgender community find themselves in. BB lived in the shadows, struggling to create a place in life. “She knew all the hideouts [to keep herself safe],” says Kris Wade, executive director of the Justice Project KC.
Around the time of her death, 30-year-old BB was living in an abandoned apartment. She was also visiting Kris, who was helping BB get her life in order. “That meant getting a place to live, getting some medication to build stability,” Kris shares. “That is what she was all about lately. She had a lot of things coming at her, but she was really good at surviving.”
Kansas City is one of the hardest places in the nation to be an LGBTQ youth or adult, according to Jorge Basaure-Carrington, a victims advocate at the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. Jorge says racism, discrimination, and intolerance keep Black Transgender women like BB from getting proper medical care or even the housing they deserve. It’s not unusual, he says, for federally funded organizations to refuse to help or house women like BB.
“This is a tough state,’’ Kris says. “There are no real protections for LGBTQ folks.”
People who knew BB say her days were consumed with figuring out how to survive on the streets. “It’s very hard to focus on your dreams and hopes when you’re trying to figure out how to survive the night when it’s six degrees outside,” Kris says. “There’s nowhere to go, and you have no Medicaid anymore to get your medicine. It’s a downward spiral for people in poverty and very difficult for those in the LGBTQ community who have been left out of homeless shelters.”
The two met when BB was a teenager. “She was her authentic self every day. When I met her as a teenager, she was already very conscious of her identity,” Kris says.
She was intelligent, with a wicked sense of humor and a quick tongue for comebacks.
Kris says BB preferred to be called Brianna or BB, though sometimes she spelled her name Breonna, Breona, or BeBe.
Those who knew her describe BB as tall and slender, with high cheekbones. She was also intelligent, with a wicked sense of humor and a quick tongue for comebacks. Despite all the hardships, she managed to keep her looks up. Her hair and makeup were always on point.
But life wasn’t easy for BB. On May 24, BB made national news when Kansas City police, responding to a trespassing call, beat her and pinned her to the ground. A passing motorist recorded it on video. The video footage is hard to watch as a police officer slams BB’s face to the ground while she helplessly screams, “Oh, God help me!”
One activist says BB was waiting at the door of a beauty supply store to meet a street advocate when the store owner complained and called the police. Police say officers reported that BB physically resisted arrest.
The Kansas City Star editorial board wrote, “While police contend this was a case of resisting arrest, the aggressive tactics continue long after the suspect, who was accused only of misdemeanor offenses, appears subdued.”
After the incident, BB tried to create a fresh start. But on October 16, tragedy struck again: BB was killed by an unidentified man, who remained at the scene until officers arrived. Details of what happened that day are still unclear. Sergeant Jake Becchina, a spokesperson for the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, says an argument led to the shooting. He added that police believe BB’s identity didn’t play into the fight. According to police, the alleged shooter is not currently in custody, but the case has been presented to the prosecutor’s office for charges.
When BB was in the room, there was no mistake. She was very boisterous, just an exuberant young woman.
Activists say BB’s death cut especially deep within the LGBTQ community because she is the third transgender or gender-nonconforming person killed this year in Kansas City.
“A very bright star went out,’’ Kris says. “She was a firecracker.”
Now that BB’s gone, Kris can’t help but think of the first time they met. “I was on outreach, walking through the streets one night. I stopped and chatted with BB. She was with one person I knew, who introduced us. She was like a bright little button,” Kris says. “When BB was in the room, there was no mistake. She was very boisterous, just an exuberant young woman.”