A vigil is planned for Wednesday night for 22-year-old Shade Schuler.
As they prepare to stage a vigil for a transgender woman found murdered this summer, LGBT advocates are calling out the Dallas Police Department (DPD) for continuing to refer to the victim as male.
A vigil is set for Wednesday night for 22-year-old Shade Schuler (Image, top and below), who advocates say was a black trans woman. Schuler's badly decomposed body was found in an empty field on July 29, in an area where she'd repeatedly been arrested for sex work, according to police. Schuler was shot to death and found wearing a tube top, shorts, a wig and false fingernails with diamond studs and pink tips.
Signs for Wednesday's vigil
Despite requests from transgender advocates, DPD has declined to change the department's blog posts about the case, which refer to Schuler as "a black male." Sr. Cpl. Monica Cordova, a spokeswoman for the department, said the decision is based on interviews with Schuler's family members and friends, who've referred to her as male.
"If it were something where the family and friends were referring to Shade as a transgender person, we would have absolutely no problem addressing Shade as a her," Cordova told The New Civil Rights Movement. "In this case, it's different, because the family and friends that we have talked to have both said the same thing â€” referred to Shade as a him, and said he did dress up as a female, but that wasn't all the time. He didn't really have a preference as to what he was referred to as.
"He didn't correct people when they said 'him,'" Cordova added. "If they referred to him as a him, he was OK with it. If that's the way he lived his life and didn't have a problem with how people referred to him, then why should we? I'm just not comfortable changing something because they're uncomfortable with how we're referring to someone who wasn't uncomfortable with it."
Nell Gaither, president of Trans Pride Initiative, a Dallas-based nonprofit, said the community has presented "clear evidence" to DPD that Schuler was trans. Gaither said she personally spoke with two family members who confirmed that Schuler identified as female. Schuler's family members have declined requests for an interview.
"This is simply setting a barrier to avoid accurate description of the person, adding to evidence of cis-centric transphobia in the DPD," Gaither said. "The DPD likes to point to their dozen-plus years of cultural sensitivity training as evidence that disrespect is impossible, but an increasing number of reports to Trans Pride Initiative are showing that such training, at least around trans issues, may serve as little more than ticking off a check box and providing cover for entrenched transphobia. Reports of things like officers threatening to arrest a trans woman for 'impersonating a woman' ... show there is little interest in or effort to identify and address possible the transphobia embedded in the culture of DPD."
In response to Gaither's request, The Dallas Morning News updated its initial report about the murder to indicate the Schuler was transgender.
Gaither said misgendering Schuler could hamper DPD's investigation. She also said the department has declined to change its original report, which means the murder might not be reported properly as a hate crime to the FBI.
Cordova said identifying Schuler as male won't affect the investigation because the department has released her photo and other information. Cordova also said although investigators haven't ruled it out, there is no evidence to suggest the murder was a hate crime.
"From Shade's record, he was a known male prostitute," Cordova said. "He was killed in the same are where he was known to hang around and where he had been arrested. I'm not saying that's what got him killed or anything like that. I'm just saying those are facts that we have."
Gaither said many trans women are forced into sex work for survival due to social stigma and employment discrimination. One recent national survey found that while the overall unemployment rate was seven percent, it was 14 percent for trans people and 28 percent for black trans people.
"That is exacerbated by the high social stigma that lowers self-esteem and self-worth, often meaning trans folks take greater risks in survival work than other folks do," Gaither said.
Schuler is among at least 19 trans women who've been reported murdered this year, up from 12 for all of 2014, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
Images of Shade Schuler via MySpace
Image of signs by Trans Pride Initiative via Facebook
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