Black Trans Women in Jacksonville, Florida are Being Murdered
Murder has taken the lives of up to five Black trans women and one Black gay man since the beginning of 2018. The tight-knit LGBTQ community is wondering when the killers will be caught, and why no one cares that they’re dying.
Athena Cadence was a 30 year old activist. After being imprisoned and held in a San Francisco men’s detention center, despite being a transgender woman, Cadence went on a sixty-four day hunger strike, protesting San Francisco’s cruel treatment towards incarcerated trans women. Eventually, Cadence’s persistence, along with assistance from The Transgender Law Center, paid off. Last February it was announced that the San Francisco Sheriff’s Office would be implementing “three new policies that involve searches, proper pronouns and hosing options, and complement more than two years of deputy gender-awareness training.” Sadly, Cadence would not be here to celebrate this accomplishment. Athena Cadence was found dead in Jacksonville, Florida last January. Her death was ruled as a suicide, though, many of her loved ones question the circumstances. Athena Cadence would be the first Black member of Jacksonville’s tight LGBTQ community to die in 2018, but she would be far from the last.
“ …There have been four killed in Jacksonville in five months. Something is going on. These cases need to be looked at by the FBI. And two murders in one day. Come on now!” — Paige Mahogany Parks, Jacksonville Transgender Awareness Project
On February 4th, 36 year old Celine Walker was found shot to death in a local Jacksonville hotel. Jacksonville County Police misgendered Celine, who was a trans woman, as a man. When friends of Walker, such as Naomi Michaels, called out Jacksonville County Police for misgendering their friend, they were told that the department does not refer to people as transgender.
“The lack of urgency by law enforcement perhaps speaks to the bias towards trans women of color.” — Gina Duncan, Director of Transgender Equality at Equality Florida
Antonia English, known by her friends as Antash’a, was a Georgia native who moved to Jacksonville, Florida. Antash’a was a staple of Jacksonville’s LGBTQI community, performing at the gay-friendly InCaHoots for nearly ten years. On the evening of June 1st, Ms. English was shot in the abdomen in a drive-by shooting in Jacksonville, Florida. She later died in the hospital from the gunshot wound. Once again, Jacksonville Sheriff’s office misgendered the victim, delaying the investigation and insulting English’s loved ones.
Cathalina Christina James was a twenty-four year old South Carolina native who planned on moving to New York. Her mother said that James was the life of the party and loved to travel and dance. On the afternoon of June 24, Jacksonville Sheriff’s office responded to a call at a local Quality Inn. Emergency responders found James dead of a gunshot wound. According to Transgender Universe, “ James was originally deadnamed and misgendered in initial reports by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.”
Sasha Garden was a Wisconsin native who lived in Florida off and on for two years. Described as an outgoing firecracker, Garden worked as a sex worker who loved to do hair and was saving up for transition-related healthcare.
“As soon as I opened the door, I get, ‘I hear a bunch of transvestites stay here.’ I had to let them know, I’m a transgender woman and I’m the only one that stays here.” — Montrese Williams, outreach coordinator for Miracle of Love
“She was traveling a lot and trying to find her way,” Montrese Williams, a friend of Garden’s said in an interview. It would be Williams who the police would ask to identify Garden. Despite Williams informing authorities that Sasha Garden was a transgender woman, her official report labeled her as 27-year old man from Jacksonville “wearing a wig and was dressed as a female.” According to Orlando Weekly, Garden’s friends contacted various stations asking them to issue corrections, but they all initially declined. It is believed that Jessie Sumlar, a 30 year old a gay hairdresser who did drag, was also murdered in Jacksonville around the same time.
There. Is. A Serial. Killer. Murdering. Black. Trans. Women. In. Jacksonville. and nobody cares.
It’s no secret that Black transgender women survive in the most deadly intersection in this country. Just last month, trans activist and personality Ashlee Marie Preston celebrated her 34th birthday with a cake that had the images of 77 Black trans women, all who had been murdered. Preston wanted to fight back against the life expectancy of trans women, a mere thirty-five years, by launching her #ThriveOver35 campaign, aimed at bringing more awareness to the many risks that trans women face, and encourage them to envision life past thirty-five.
The slain victims all have more than a few things in common. They’re all Black. They were all living and/or working in Jacksonville. They’re were all members of the LGBTQ community. And, all of their cases are being handled by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
Without the law on their side, Black trans women are sitting ducks in Jacksonville and surrounding areas. Because many trans women depend on sex work and performing for a living, sitting at home and waiting for the killer to get caught isn’t an option.
This is when calling ourselves an ally really mean something. In this life or death situation, each moment these women areignored, another trans woman is closer to being murdered. There’s a lot wrong with this country that we have no control over, but, we can protect the Black trans women of Jacksonville, Florida.
The Jacksonville police department, as well as the Jacksonville mayor, Lenny Curry, and Florida state governor Rick Scott all need to be held accountable for making sure that justice is brought to the murderer that’s taken these precious lives. Governor Scott has a history of neglecting the LGBTQ community, failing to reach out to them or speak to them directly after the Pulse shooting in 2016.
Call Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams Office and Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and demand them to respect gender pronouns, publicly address the targeted murders, stop misgendering trans women, and increase police patrol in Jacksonville:
Sheriff Mike Williams Office
Mayor Lenny Curry
(904) 630–7600, Mayor’s Office
City Hall at St. James Building
117 W. Duval St. Suite 400
Jacksonville, FL 32202
Governor Rick Scott
Office of Governor Rick Scott
State of Florida
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399–0001
Tamela J. Gordon is a writer, Black feminist, and creator of the women’s empowerment group, Sisters with Aspiration, as well as SWA’s Black Feminists Book Club. You can gift books for readers or pay Tamela HERE: To contact Tamela for speaking engagements or creating your own women’s empowerment group, email firstname.lastname@example.org