JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - News of an arrest in the February 2018 murder of a local transgender woman came as a relief to local members of the LGBTQ community.
Last year’s violence in Jacksonville, left three black transwomen dead and prompted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to create an LGBT Liaison Team.
Action News Jax Investigates looked at the progress of the group in the last year and talked to a local artist who hopes her work will bring more allies forward.
Local artist Erin Kendrick creates art featuring black women and the narratives of black women.
As a part of a new series called "Give Them Their Flowers," Kendrick painted bold and colorful portraits of Denali Berries Stuckey, Marsha P. Johnson and Celine Walker, whose family called Erica.
Kendrick said, "I did want to give them color, give them life. I wanted it to be as bright and noticeable as possible. The idea is for you to see them because these women tend to be forgotten, so I really want people to see them."
They are all black transgender women whose lives were cut short over the years. Kendrick said, "They deserve to have their murders solved. They deserve our attention."
The Human Rights Campaign says at least 26 transgender people were killed in the United States in 2018, most were black transwomen.
At least 19 have been killed so far this year, including two in Florida.
It’s a reality local transgender women like Christian Arroya told Action News Jax Anchor Tenikka Hughes they face everyday.
Arroya said, "You are scared. People are going to judge you. You don’t know if someone is going to attack you. You don’t know if you're going to make it home alive."
Paige Mahogany Parks leads the Transgender Awareness Project and remembers the violence that sparked fear and outrage in the local LGBTQ community last year.
Parks said, "We felt there was a target on our backs."
The violence prompted the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office to create an LGBT Liaison team.
Action News Jax anchor Tenikka Hughes spoke with the department about the team a year ago and checked in for an update.
Assistant Chief Adam Pendley said in the last year, ranking members of the department got in-person training and online training went out to the remainder of the agency this past June. We also asked if any tips have come in to the special JSO LGBT email address created with the liaison team. Pendley said no, but that they have gotten positive face-to-face feedback at community events. In a phone interview, Pendley said,"People will come up to us and they are happy because people who have sons or daughters that have experienced issues. There is a level of engagement there and they are happy to know if there is a need there is someone to reach out to."
Kendrick said she also wanted to raise awareness about the concept of "deadnaming," or the public release of a person's birth name rather than their affirmed or changed name. As a part of a change made JSO's policy last year, the department identifies transgender victims by their birth name and the name they are also known as. Pendley said in face-to-face interactions, officers should refer to people by their preferred names and pronouns.
Parks says she wants to see JSO do more to reach out to local advocacy groups like hers. She also wants to see sheriff’s walks focused solely on the LGBT community. A community Parks says needs allies.
Parks said, "An ally is someone that’s learning me. That’s trying to learn about the LGBTQ community, trying to learn about black trans women of color. Someone that sees something and says something." Parks added, "Someone that’s genuine and that has the same love for me as they would for someone that is not LGBT."
Kendrick hopes her work will help spark conversations that lead to education and understanding.
"I hope it acknowledges them and makes you think and learn more - and not so quick to judge something you don't understand or something you don’t like." Kendrick continued, "It just gives you a reason to honor them and speak their names and make sure that as individual citizens we are staying on top of this."
Pendley said anyone with feedback, concerns or questions should email JSOLGBT@jaxsheriff.org.
You can see Erin Kendrick’s art in the “Through our Eyes” exhibit at Ritz Theater and Museum now through January.
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