© 2023 90.7 WMFE. All Rights Reserved.
Public Media for Central Florida
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Multiple Deaths And Few Arrests: How One County Works To Protect The Transgender Community

Photo: Observers at the Sasha Garden vigil by Monivette Cordeiro, orlandoweekly.com

According to the Human Rights Campaign,  at least 22 transgender or gender nonconforming people have been killed in 2019 in the U.S, mostly individuals of color.

That includes one transgender woman in Florida, while another barely survived her attack.

Advocates are frustrated with the slow pace of some of these investigations, but some law enforcement agencies in Central Florida are working to change that. 

[caption id="attachment_141580" align="alignleft" width="400"]

Gina Duncan, Director of Transgender Equality at Equality Florida. photo by: Talia Blake[/caption]

Jacksonville Sheriff’s Deputies arrested Eric Shaun Bridges on Attempted Murder Charges in September for tying a transgender woman to the back of  a pickup truck and dragging her for two miles. However, an arrest still hasn't been made for the death of Bee Love Slater in Clewiston, who was tied up and shot before being burned in her car. 

Gina Duncan, Director of Transgender Equality at Equality Florida, thinks police could’ve found answers faster if they didn’t misgender Slater. 

"Using her dead name as well as male pronouns," Duncan said. "What actually happens from that is, besides breeding mistrust with the community, it also impedes the investigation."

By dead names, Duncan means the person’s birth name versus their chosen name. 

Advocates say that’s what held up the investigation of an Orange County transgender woman’s death. Initial reports in 2018 on the murder of Sasha Garden in Orlando received

[caption id="attachment_141581" align="alignright" width="400"]

Orange County Sheriff's LGBTQ Liaisons: Lt. Brandon Ragan (left) and Detective Mara Everson (right)[/caption]

a lot backlash for the way police and media outlets reported on it. The Sasha Garden case is still active and open more than a year later.

"There were some challenges in that initial disclosure of the victims information,"  said Lieutenant Brandon Ragan at the Orange County Sheriff's Office. "Everybody learns from their mistakes and here at the sheriff's office, we did as well."

The mistakes he’s talking about have to do with how they identified Garden in their initial report, as a man wearing a wig and dressed as a woman.  

Gina Duncan said mishaps like that can be avoided by having officers who are part of the LGBTQ+ community.  "By creating an LGBTQ liaison team within law enforcement agency, who is embedded in the community, who knows the community, and in most cases can reach out to people within the community."

Nikole Parker agrees. She’s a transgender woman of color and says having a liaison makes the community feel safer. "Because if something happens, for instance, Sasha garden and those horrific news headlines, but what happened is we as a community mobilized together and called whoever posted them said that it was inappropriate and it got changed."

[caption id="attachment_141585" align="alignleft" width="400"]

Nikole Parker. photo by Talia Blake[/caption]

Parker knows what it’s like to be called the wrong name by the police, especially before she changed her I.D. "It was intentional ‘sirs’, it was intentional dead names. Even when I said, clearly, I'm presenting in a different way. 'Oh, well, I don't know about that,'" she said. "And that was early on. Now, I will say that I've seen a change in a lot of law enforcement, I think especially after Pulse."

Lieutenant Brandon Ragan was the first person appointed to the Orange County Sheriff's LGBTQ liaison team. Now, the team has grown to 4 people. Ragan agrees with Parker that there was a shift after the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 that left 49 people dead.

He said, "It was instrumental I would like to say kinda like after Pulse. Just to bridge any gap that there may have been in the community or people that may have perceived the gap there, even though there may not have been, for them to know who their point of contact could be if they didn't feel comfortable coming to someone who wasn't LGBTQ."

With the help of the Gay Officers Action League of Central Florida, Ragan is hoping to get a liaison at every police department in Central Florida. So far, the Orlando, Kissimmee, and Edgewood Police Departments have a liaison, among others.

Trans advocate Nikole Parker said she thinks it’s making a difference in Orlando. "And that's the biggest thing is just law enforcement, being open to it, and implementing an LGBT liaison was the first step and it's an amazing step." Parker said it’s not perfect, but it’s progress.

Orange County Detectives are still processing some of the physical evidence from the Sasha Garden case. They are also still actively following up on any new leads which come in. They encourage anyone with information about the events of that night or Garden’s death to come forward. It can be done anonymously by calling Crimeline at 1-800-423-TIPS.

After a brief stint as Morning Edition Producer at The Public’s Radio in in Rhode Island, Talia Blake returned to WMFE, the station that grew her love for public radio. She graduated with a double-major in Broadcast Journalism and Psychology from the University of Central Florida (Go Knights!). While at UCF, she was an intern for WMFE’s public affairs show, Intersection. In her spare time, Talia is an avid foodie and enjoys working out.