The Cleveland transgender community is grappling with the violent deaths of two transgender women late last week — the second and third of such murders in Ohio this year, an advocate told BuzzFeed.
“[The transgender community] is overwhelmed and scared and some people even told me they are afraid of going out of their homes because they don’t know what is going on,” said Jake Nash, a longtime Ohio transgender advocate, who knew both of the victims. “It’s terrible.”
Police are investigating the deaths of Betty Skinner, 52, who was found dead Dec. 5 at a Cleveland assisted living facility and Brittany Nicole Kidd Stergis, 22, who was found shot to death in her car less than 24 hours later. Both deaths are being investigated as homicides, authorities said, but detectives have no reason to believe they are linked.
“At this time, there are no indications that the incidents are related or connected,” Det. Jennifer Ciaccia of the Cleveland Police Public Information Office told BuzzFeed. “Neither incident has been titled as a hate crime. The Division of Police continues to investigate these separate cases and will do so thoroughly.”
Preliminary police information indicates Skinner suffered blunt trauma to the head and was found by a home health care worker, who was returning to work after leaving around 10 p.m. Wednesday night. Stergis died of a gunshot wound to the head and was found bleeding in her car after witnesses reported the sound of gunfire to police. Witnesses also saw a person fleeing the scene, according to police.
And while police have not classified the killings as hate crimes based on gender identity, Nash said — short of calling them hate crimes — “In some way or shape or form their transgender status had something to do with the violence.”
“The fact that they are both transgender gives me pause for wonder,” Nash added.
This is cause for concern among many in the local transgender and LGB communities, according to Nash, who along with other advocates, will hold a community meeting Dec. 15 to address safety.
Additionally, advocates will discuss how police can better protect the transgender community and criticized how Stergis was misgendered in police reports.
“These are women that I knew — these are women who may not have gotten respect in life and may also not be getting respect in death — especially the way police have been using terms and way they have been represented in media,” Nash said. “It is very disheartening. Hopefully, with education that can change.”
In April, Cemia “CeCe” Dove, 20, was found dead in a in a suburban Cuyahoga County pond, and in November, her killer was convicted and sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years.
At least 238 transgender people were murdered across the globe last year — 16 of which were in the United States, according to a report by Transgender Europe’s Trans Murder Monitoring project.
As of late Monday, Cleveland police said there were no suspects and nobody in custody in relation to the deaths. Nash hopes authorities apprehend the correct perpetrators — especially because attention is turning to the city ahead of hosting the annual Gay Games next year.
“My concern is that when the community rises up and has a reaction there tends to be an urgency by the police to find somebody — anybody — so that they can make sure there is some sort of satisfaction,” Nash said. “People are watching what is happening in Cleveland.”
Since learning of the news, several in the local community have contacted Nash to find out more and offer condolences.
“One trans person doesn’t know every other trans person, but it is a very close-knit community,” Nash said. “When someone goes missing or is murdered like they were, it really brings our awareness to the forefront and now I have to bury two more women from my community. It is devastating.”