For the 12th time this year, a transgender woman has been murdered, equaling the total number of reported trans murders in all of 2014. And once again, the victim is a trans woman of color.
Amber Monroe, 20, of Detroit, was a student at Michigan's Wayne State University. Although local activists reported her name, that she was trans, and that she was fatally shot to the news media, Detroit police would only confirm the circumstances and not the victim's name to The Advocate. Because her legal identification listed her as male, she was identified by police not as a transgender woman but as a black man, denying what friends say was her authentic gender identity.
"He was observed leaving a vehicle when someone inside fired a shot, fatally wounding the victim," said Officer Nicole Kirkwood, a spokeswoman for the Detroit Police Department. Monroe died at a local hospital.
Kirkwood tells The Advocate detectives are now investigating the murder, which occurred at 5:05 a.m. Saturday on Woodward Avenue, west of Dakota, on Detroit's west side, a "red light district" that local activists and news media say is known as an area for sex work by trans women. That same area is where police investigated three hate crimes against trans women one year ago, including a murder, according to Detroit's WXYZ TV.
A friend, Julisa Abad, told another TV station, WJBK, that this was not Monroe's first brush with violence, and in fact she had been attacked before: "She's been shot two or three times. But this time she didn't make it."
LGBT advocacy group Equality Michigan issued a statement in announcing Monroe's murder:
"Our hearts are heavy with grief that we have lost another vibrant member of our community too soon. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all of Amber's family and friends whom she clearly loved deeply.
"We have no idea yet whether this attack was fueled by transphobia, but we do know that Amber's murder is the 12th murder of a transgender woman in the United States this year, and the 10th murder of a transgender woman of color. Transgender women, and especially transgender women of color, are disproportionately affected by violence.
"Her life was just beginning; I know that this loss will leave so many people with a hole in their lives and with more questions than answers. Let's come together to celebrate her life, and work for real change so that our transgender sisters can be free from persecution. I know we can do better. We have to do better."
Studies have shown that trans people of color, both men and women, experience disproportionately high levels of violence, although it is significantly higher for all trans women. As The Advocate reported in June, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs found 72 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims are trans women and 67 per cent are trans women of color.
In memory of Monroe, Laverne Cox posted her photo on her Instagram account, along with a heart emoticon and an image of an angel.
She added several hashtags, including #CaitlynJenner and others used by activists to highlight the deaths of women of color, #BlackTransLivesMatter and #SayHerName.
Monroe's murder comes just weeks after the 11th victim was killed in Fresno, Calif. Police there have been searching for those responsible for the early morning stabbing death of 66-year-old K.C. Haggard, who local advocates say was a trans woman.
Haggard's murder was the second in July. The body of a 25-year-old black trans woman, India Clarke, was found in a park outside Tampa, Fla.'s University Area Community Center. She had been beaten to death.
Bri Golec, 22, of Akron, Ohio, has been identified as another possible trans murder victim, although there have been conflicting reports from friends and family about how Golec identified. By comparison, 12 transgender women were murdered in the U.S. in all of 2014, though this does not account for individuals whose deaths were not reported or investigated, nor for victims who were misgendered or not regarded as trans women in death.
The Advocate asked Detroit police to clarify their policy for identifying transgender victims of crime. A spokeswoman emailed a response, explaining the department's policy for identifying transgender victims of crime. "Our policy states that we treat all victims equally and investigate all cases of violence as we normally do regardless of gender, appearance,sexual orientation, gender identity or expression," Sgt. Cassandra Lewis wrote. "However, we must legally identify all persons based on what is stated on their state issued identification."
Lewis also outlined what Detroit police are doing to address deadly hate crimes like this. "We are conducting a LGBT Community Chat in an effort to get citizens in the LGBT community the opportunity to come out and speak with the Police Chief and other law enforcement partners about the violence that is committed against them. This is a way for the community and the police department to work together to bring about positive change."
Anyone with information about Monroe's murder should contact the Homicide section of the Detroit Police Department at 313-596-2260 or 1-800-SPEAKUP.
Click here for a link to our updated coverage of the women whose lives have been taken in 2015 due to transphobic bias.