Two LGBT people in two US cities were shot dead within 24 hours this week, fueling what some have called a “state of emergency” in the LGBT community.
Kiesha Jenkins, a 22-year-old transgender woman, was killed on a Philadelphia street early on Tuesday, after being assaulted by five or six men when she got out of a car. When Jenkins fell to the ground, someone fired two shots into her back.
Jenkins is the 21st transgender or gender non-conforming murder victim in the US this year, and the 18th transgender woman of color to be killed.
In Detroit, on the morning of 5 October, an African American gay man known simply as Melvin, 30, was found shot dead on a street in the Palmer Park area. At the time of his death, Melvin was wearing women’s clothing.
Local officials told the Guardian no arrests had been made in either case and it was too early to confirm if hate was a factor. In Philadelphia, police confirmed they were investigating whether Jenkins’ gender identity played a role in her murder.
So far this year, there have been 21 murders of transgender and gender non-conforming people, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) – an advocacy group tracking such deaths. Transgender homicides have risen by 11% from the previous year.
The number could be higher, as transgender victims have been known to be misgendered by investigating police. Jessica “Jessie” Hernandez was recently added to the tally. Hernandez was shot by Denver police in January, after stealing a car. Hernandez has recently been identified as gender non-conforming.
Melvin’s death has not been included in the NCAVP tally, because he identified as a gay man, according to friends, even though he presented as gender non-conforming when he was killed.
Of the 21 murders of transgender people in 2015, almost half involved guns. In 2014, eight of 12 murders of transgender and gender non-conforming people involved gunshot wounds.
The NCAVP intends to begin tracking the weapons used to commit such crimes.
“Given the high number of community members we have lost this year specifically to gun violence, this is something we are starting to look at more closely,” said Emily Waters, an NCAVP research and education coordinator.
“Transgender and gender nonconforming people – and especially transgender women of color – are disproportionately affected by severe violence and homicide.”
“For many LGBT people, participation in street economies is often critical to survival,” civil rights group Lambda Legal said in a statement in August, when supporting Amnesty International’s resolution to decriminalize sex work.
“LGBT youth and transgender women of color face all-too-common family rejection and vastly disproportionate rates of violence, homelessness and discrimination in employment, housing, and education,” the statement continued.
Almost half of the 21 murders this year have been linked to sex work or occurred in areas known for it.
In August, the Guardian investigated the murders of Tamara Dominguez and Jasmine Collins in Kansas City, which happened weeks apart. Both women were found in an area known for sex work, and where transgender women had been murdered before.
Such murders have happened in many cities. “I lived at 6th mile and Woodward and moved away because it wasn’t a safe environment,” Julisa Abad, a trans advocate and friend to all the transgender murder victims in Detroit this year, told the Guardian.
“If you’re transgender or part of the LGBT community everyone assumes that you’re a sex worker there.”
Abad is working closely with police in the area where she says many in the Detroit LGBT community hang out – specifically people who are low-income or experiencing homelessness. She feels such people are “targeted”.
“My sisters are going to continue going there,” she said. “Because at least we know you’re not alone and there are people like yourself.”