Cleveland lost two transgender women to murders that occurred within days of each other earlier this month. Now, advocates in Cleveland are rallying to advocate for their transgender neighbors.
At 22 years old, Brittany Stergis' young life was lost to a gunshot wound to head. Betty Skinner, 52, whose disabilities required her to stay in an assisted living facility, suffered fatal head injuries. At this point, no arrests have been made and there are no suspects for either case. During January of this year, in the same city, a 20-year-old trans woman named Ce Ce Dove was stabbed to death on a blind date. Ce Ce's murderer is currently serving a life sentence.
Recently, a community meeting was held at a local church for more than 80 residents, community leaders, and city officials to discuss the onslaught of violence against LGBT people in the area. The Deputy Chief of the Cleveland Police Department, Ed Tomba, said at the meeting that Brittany and Betty's murders, which are thought to be unrelated incidents, are indeed "crimes of hate." He continued, though, that state law prevents the city police from officially qualifying them as hate crimes.
"Make no mistake about it," said Deputy Chief Tomba, "we will take these two crimes to the federal government, we will ask them to review them and see if they fall under the hate crime statue."
National organizations like GLAAD, the National center for Transgender Equality, the National Gay & Lesbian Task Force, and the Human Rights Campaign had members present at the meeting to show their support and to urge the community to prevent further acts of targeted violence. Lana Moore, a member of GLAAD's board, told fellow participants in the forum, "I am here today, in solidarity, to listen."
Lana spoke about GLAAD's continuous work to bring attention to the unjust, horrific crimes committed against Brittany and Betty, as well as to raise awareness about violence against the trans community at large. Just as when Ce Ce lost her life, GLAAD has connected with Cleveland's local media to ensure respectful and accurate reporting as well as to do away with sensationalistic, degrading, and uninformed coverage of the women.
Also in attendance was Police Chief Michael McGrath, who explained that all 1600 members of the police department are trained in dealing appropriately with issues affecting the trans community. Still, others at the meeting believed that more training is necessary to repair the at times troubled relationship between the Cleveland police and the LGBT residents they are meant to protect. Lana was able to spend time with Chief McGrath, learning what the Cleveland police currently does to train officers about workign with the LGBT community and talking to him about the importance of police cooperation with anti-transgender crimes.
As the organization continues to work on behalf of Betty and Brittany, GLAAD hopes that all members of the Cleveland community will constantly strive to improve the social climate and safety for all residents, particularly those who are frequently targeted.