Editor's note: If you have any information about Sage Smith's whereabouts to please contact the Charlottesville Police Department at 434-977-4000.
Today is Sage Smith's 20th birthday. But instead of spending this very special occasion surrounded by her friends and loved ones, the Charlottesville, Virginia trans teen is still missing and there remains no lead on her whereabouts.
First reported missing on Thanksgiving, Sage Smith was reportedly last with Erik McFadden, two days prior. Police questioned McFadden about Sage's absence but let him go citing insufficient reasons to hold him. McFadden has since gone missing, presumably leaving Virginia.
In an interview with The Hook, Smith's grandmother commented on the horror of losing the oldest of her 14 grandchildren, saying:
"I'm so lost," says 53-year-old Lolita Smith, sitting and crying in the living room of the duplex she inhabits on Orangedale Avenue. Known to friends and family as "Cookie," Smith describes a world come undone since Dashad's pre-Thanksgiving disappearance. The oldest of her 14 grandchildren, [Smith] has always had a special connection to the grandmother who raised [her] for about five years of his early childhood. She says [Smith] called her nearly every day. She describes Smith as a "a very caring person..always trying to help the underdog."
Despite conflicting reports, the police say Sage Smith was last seen around 6:30pm in the 500 block of West Main. However, other individuals say Smith was seen later in the evening and may have been dressed in women's clothing. Kenneth Jackson, Sage's cousin, has been the most vocal member of the family calling for an improved police presence in the search.
The same Hook article reports: "Jackson told City Manager Jones that family members would like the Charlottesville Police to obtain FBI and State Police assistance, conduct a citywide search, and ask property owners to search their land– as well as set up meetings between potential witnesses and the case's lead detective outside of an interrogation room." Jackson also told reporters:"There are people who may know things who aren't willing to go to the police station."
Local Advocates see the community's response to Sage Smith's abduction is reflective of a greater need for commission that works specifically on minority issues. Organizer Amy Sarah Marshall told C-ville.com:
“There’s a general dismissive attitude toward Sage’s disappearance,” said Amy Sarah Marshall, president of Cville Pride and organizer of the September Pride Festival. “We want to make sure this gets as much attention and value from the community as a whole as any other disappearance would.
Marshall said she wanted to see the city implement a human rights commission and develop better communication around issues affecting minority communities like hers.
“I’m not pointing a finger at any one organization or entity at all,” she said. “I think that this is a great opportunity for us as a community to look at how we can efficiently respond to someone missing.”
Charlottesville Police Chief Tim Longo sat quietly at last Monday night’s City Council meeting while residents spoke passionately about their missing friend and family member, even as some accused him of not doing enough because of Smith’s sexual orientation.
Longo said in an interview in his office a few days later. “I see this as a member of my community who is missing, and nobody knows why. Where we are in the process, we’re really not in a position to share. And that silence, which has meaning and purpose, can sometimes be perceived as disinterest and inaction. That couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
Coupled with the mounting frustration with the local police is the frustration with the media's perpetual silence on Sage's abduction. As I wrote in an op-ed for The Huffington Post last week:
To call the mainstream media's silence on Sage Smith's story deafening would be an understatement. Really, it's bigger. That someone's son or daughter, trans-identified or not, can go missing from their family for nearly 20 days and there be no national or even local outcry is more than enraging; it's terrifying.
Sadly enough, the media's shameful history of turning a blind eye to stories of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people of color is well known to those of us who are of these communities or who watch the media carefully. And sadly, very little attention is paid to the LGBTQ young people who make up as much as 40 percent of our country's homeless youth population.
The failure to show LGBTQ people of color as active and vital members of our communities and families perpetuates the dangerous stereotype that LGBTQ people of color are either nonexistent or that our identities are invalid. The media has failed to shine light on the targeted violence that trans women of color continue to endure. According to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 40 percent of anti-LGBT murder victims in 2011 were transgender women; there have been 11 reported murders of trans women in the U.S. this year alone. The media have also failed to contextualize that violence alongside the discrimination that trans women of color face as a result of racism, misogyny and transphobia, and most Americans are unaware of these severe disparities in access and opportunity. Were any of these things factors in Sage's disappearance? We don't know. But by ignoring her story, the media are further alienating an already marginalized community and identity.
While that seems to be changing, we encourage any who knows anything about Sage Smith's whereabouts to please contact the Charlottesville Police Department at 434-977-4000.
If you live in Charlottesville, VA we encourage you to attend a Balloon Release Ceremony in honor of Sage's birthday. Happy Birthday Sage Smith.