ORLANDO, Fla. — Data shows violence against the LGBTQ community — especially transgender people — is up sharply across the country.
- Report: At least 27 transgender, gender noncomforming people killed in 2017
- At least 52 LGBTQ people killed in hate-related crimes in 2017
- Center: Transgender community more visible, more cases being reported
- RELATED: Orlando Community Remembers Slain Transgender Woman at Vigil
Advocates for the transgender community in Central Florida say they're not surprised that violence against their community is up, and there are several reasons why.
Finding a safe place
Mulan Montrese Williams is no stranger to violence.
“I’ve been raped three times, I’ve been robbed about five, had eight guns pulled on me,” Williams said.
It's violence Williams says came along with being a sex worker. She says it’s the only work she could find where she could also be comfortable being herself as a transgender woman. She says that’s the case for many in the community.
“I remember I got hired for one job and I went in, and they were like, 'Oh no, you can’t come like that,'” Williams said.
Williams now puts out condoms and offers water bottles at her Orlando home. It serves as a safe space for other members of the transgender community.
But her safe haven wasn’t enough to keep Sasha Garden from losing her life.
'I'm not going to stop until I get justice'
“Her dream was to complete her transition, go back to Milwaukee and open a salon and just be this fabulous hair-dresser,” Williams said. “That was her dream. Unfortunately, it was cut short.”
Garden was found dead in the Orlando are July 19. Investigators with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office say her case is still open and active, but there’s been no arrest.
Hate crimes in general against the LGBTQ community are on the rise. The FBI reported that in 2017, there were 1,303 hate-crime offenses based on sexual orientation and 131 offenses as a result of gender-identity bias.
But the FBI does not specify how many of those hate-crime incidents ended in homicide.
Garden’s sister recently reached out Spectrum News, saying she was frustrated she wasn’t getting enough information about her sister’s case.
“It’s hurtful when you don’t know what happened to your family member,” said Sharon Garden on a Facetime call from Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
She says she’ll continue to keep checking with law enforcement in hopes she’ll eventually find out who killed her sister — and why.
“I’m not going to stop, because she wouldn’t have given up on me if she was here,” Garden said. “I’m not going to stop until I get justice.”
'I'm never losing hope'
The Anti-Violence Project, which tracks violence against the LGBTQ community, reports last year was the deadliest year on record for the transgender community, with at least 27 transgender people killed nationally.
“These are very targeted crimes, and I think they are very specific — and that’s really the scary part,” said Nikole Parker, a transgender woman who is on the board at the LGBT + Center in Orlando.
Parker thinks a spike in transgender violence can at least partially be attributed to more of it being reported and documented. And she thinks the progress her community has made might also contribute to some of the violence.
“Now we’re living loud and proud, and there’s weeks dedicated to this. I think that upsets some people,” Parker says.
“Everyone’s so trans this and trans that, it’s bringing more attention to us. But for some people, it’s not good attention. They just don’t agree with it,” Williams said.
Though many transgender people are still afraid to report crimes to law enforcement, she hopes that one day, that’s not the case.
“I’m never losing hope,” Williams said. "We are going to be respected as humans one day — one day soon, hopefully.”
George Wallace, executive director of The LGBT + Center in Orlando, says requests for legal assistance at the center have increased in the past year from victims of violence.