LGBTQ advocates demand Rick Scott address murders of transgender women

Sasha Garden - Photo via Facebook
Photo via Facebook
Sasha Garden
LGBTQ advocates are demanding Gov. Rick Scott address the deaths of four black transgender women who were murdered in Orlando and Jacksonville within the past five months.

Last Thursday, Orange County deputies found Sasha Garden, 27, dead with signs of trauma on her body in the back of the Reserve at Lake Buchanan Apartments.

Garden is the fourth trans woman to be killed in Florida this year. In February, Celine Walker, 36, was found shot dead inside a room of the Extended Stay America hotel in Jacksonville. Four months later on June 1,  Antash’a English, 38, died in the hospital from gunshot wounds after deputies found her between two abandoned homes in a Jacksonville neighborhood. Weeks later on June 24, deputies found the body of Cathalina James, 24, after she was gunned down at a Quality Inn and Suites hotel in Jacksonville.

"Rick Scott has been conspicuously silent as the number of killings continue to mount," said Gina Duncan, director of transgender equality for the LGBTQ organization Equality Florida, in a statement. "We need the governor to speak out, clearly and immediately, to condemn this pattern of violence targeting transgender women and to direct state law enforcement agencies to assist in the investigations."

LGBTQ advocates believe the killings of the four transgender women may be connected because they've happened in a small area over a short period of time. Jessie Sumlar, a 30-year-old gay man, was also killed this past Thursday in Jacksonville. Another transgender woman in Jacksonville was shot five times in a domestic dispute last month and survived, though local activists told NBC News they don't think this incident is related to the killings. Equality Florida says even if the murders aren't connected, the spike in violence against trans and gender non-conforming people is a "terrifying pattern."

The LGBTQ civil rights group says law enforcement in Jacksonville and Orlando have "repeatedly misgendered" the victims and failed to use the names they identified with. The Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings has since apologized for his office initially misgendering Sasha Garden.

"When law enforcement disrespects the dead by refusing to even use their correct names, they breed an environment of mistrust and send a message to the community that these murders are not a priority," Duncan says. "As a result, they are actually impeding their own investigations as people with information may also fear being disrespected or mistreated if they come forward."

A spokesperson for Scott's office said the governor had spoken about the Jacksonville killings at a campaign stop in June.

"I just feel sorry for people," Scott said, according to Florida Politics. "You hope that it would never happen. I hate that these things happen. On the state level, we provide some funding for Jacksonville to deal with, you know, helping to reduce their crime."

Equality Florida, though, says in a news release that it's "past time" for Scott to speak out against the deadly violence targeting transgender women. The organization called on him to direct state law enforcement to support the investigation of the murders.

"At this point, we're not even sure Governor Scott can pronounce the word transgender," Duncan says. "His lack of leadership and his lack of action is shameful. How many people have to die before this becomes a priority for Governor Scott?"

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