The murder of a transgender woman discovered last week has been mishandled by the Detroit Police Department, said Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Trangender Equality.
“Understand that this kind of crime, besides being a tragedy for the victim and her loved ones, makes a lot of people nervous,” Keisling said. “Withholding pertinent information is bad public safety.”
Keisling is upset with police for refusing to release the name of the victim, as well as referring to the transgender woman as “a man in women’s clothing.” Police confirmed last Thursday they had identified the victim, who was found shot in the head in a Detroit vacant lot, but refused to release the name at the request of the family.
Michigan Messenger and Between The Lines Web sites filed a formal request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Thursday in an attempt to get police to release the name. Lawyers from the Michigan Press Association have said in a discussion with Michigan Messenger and Between The Lines that withholding the name for family reasons is not legal grounds to deny the information to the public.
“What she was wearing is not relevant nor do we really know what that means,” Keisling said. “For all we know, she could be a transgender who has transitioned, is transitioning or simply one who lived as a woman. She could also be a man who was a casual cross-dresser, or, for all we know, she could have been at a Mardi Gras party.”
Transgender is an umbrella term used by activists to identify any person who does not fit into strict gender roles. This can include everything from people who have had complete gender-change surgery to a woman who wears jeans rather than a dress.
Police do not usually identify murder victims by the clothing they wear, Keisling said.
Keisling and leaders of the Triangle Foundation, a lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender anti-violence project in Detroit, are referring to the victim as a transgender woman, even though police have referred to her throughout the investigation simply as an “unidentified and unknown age black male wearing women’s clothing.” The local media has reported the murder in the same terms. Keisling said she has seen local media do that in “more cases than she cares to remember.”