CINCINNATI — No glamorous magazine cover photo can paper over the fact that every day around the world, transgender people face deadly violence because of who they are.
Sometimes, as with Leelah Alcorn of Kings Mills 11 months ago, the mortal blow is self-inflicted.
Friday, the Cincinnati region’s transgender community and its supporters will convene the fifth local edition of the national Transgender Day of Remembrance. Organizers say 17-year-old Leelah will be remembered, and so will at least 23 transgender people slain in the United States this year, a record number, according to the National LGBTQ Task Force.
The Day of Remembrance brings together the local networks for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and gender-nonconforming people.
Steve Newsome, spokesman for the Cincinnati chapter of the Human Rights Campaign, said Leelah’s death and the record number of killings has awakened many in the movement.
“Her death was, unfortunately, a transformational moment,” Newsome said. “A lot of people finally came to understand what it means to be transgender, and a lot of the issues that play into transgender youth. There’s been a lot of action that has come from her death.”
The event comes near the close of an extraordinary year for transgender Americans, ignited by Leelah’s suicide note that included her feelings about her parents putting her into “Christian therapy” for her gender identity. Leelah’s writing concluded with the hashtag “#fixsociety.” The teenager timed the note to post on her Tumblr social media account after her death Dec. 28.
Leelah’s anguished plea, and a photograph she took of herself in a white dress, raced around the world, fueling an extended conversation. The National Transgender Discrimination Survey has found that four in 10 transgender people attempt suicide.
Jonah Yokoyama, executive director of the Heartland Trans Wellness Clinic and a pediatric nurse, said violence against transgender people is rising.
“We are in a crisis,” he said. “Heartland mourns for more deaths than will be recognized on TDoR because so many of our losses never become public knowledge. Compassion, education and simple kindness to fellow human beings are the foundation for stopping this crisis. We are just like everyone else. We want to live our lives and find our little bit of happiness.”
This summer, Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner came out as transgender, giving a network TV interview and striking a sultry pose for the cover of Vanity Fair. While Jenner did not mention Leelah by name, Jenner has talked repeatedly about the abuse and hardship of growing up and living as a transgender person.
Another focus of Friday’s local Transgender Day of Remembrance is Tiffany Edwards, 28, a transgender woman slain in a Walnut Hills alley June 26, 2014. Edwards’ mother, Temeka Edwards, agreed to have her photograph taken, but she declined to talk about the case until a conclusion is reached.
In many killings of transgender people, no one has been arrested. But a week after Edwards’ death, a man named Quamar Edwards, 27, turned himself in and has been in the Hamilton County jail awaiting trial. Quamar Edwards and Tiffany Edwards are not related.
Tiffany Edwards had a record for soliciting. Officer Angela Vance, the Cincinnati Police Department’s liaison with the LGBT community, said it’s difficult to track violence against transgender people because many of them, like Edwards, fear the police.
“People who are breaking the law have trouble talking to police about what they do and why they do it because, historically, they haven’t been treated the best by police officers,” Vance said.
Illustrative of the point: Eric Karaguleff, the Cincinnati police detective who investigated the slaying, referred to Edwards with a male name “because those were the anatomical parts he was born with.”
This summer, another transgender woman in Cincinnati who also has a record of solicitation was shot in the face, in an area not far from where Edwards was killed. The woman recovered from her injuries, and Vance tried to help her move on, but the woman has since disappeared.
Tiffany Edwards and Quamar Edwards apparently did not know each other before meeting in the alley of Tuxedo Place in Walnut Hills on June 26, 2014.
Julie Wilson, spokeswoman for Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, said that night the two had a fight. Quamar Edwards is accused of shooting Tiffany Edwards to death, then taking her purse.
“The victim’s wig,” Wilson said, “was some distance away from the body in the alley where this happened.”
Quamar Edwards’ record included a drug possession conviction and traffic infractions.
If he is convicted, Edwards faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. No trial date has been set. For the past three months, he has been undergoing competency hearings to determine whether he is mentally fit to stand trial. Another hearing in the case is scheduled Monday.
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