Advocate calls for community support, inclusion after murder of transgender woman in Jacksonville

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A recent study by The Trans People of Color Coalition and the Human Rights Campaign states that 2017 was the deadliest year for transgender people in at least a decade.

Four transgender people have been killed so far this year, including Celine Walker, who was shot and killed in Jacksonville last Sunday.

Local transgender advocate Paige Mahogany Parks said the violence needs to stop, but it will take a community effort to make that happen.

“It’s sad that another transgender woman has been killed,” Parks said.

Walker, a transgender woman, was shot and killed in a room at the Extended Stay America near the St. Johns Town Center on Feb. 4.

Parks is the director of Transgender Awareness Project, or TAP. She didn't know Walker personally, but have friends who did.

“She was cool. She didn’t do the bar scene, she wasn’t a showgirl. She lived her life as any other woman would live their life,” Parks said.

According to the Human Rights Campaign, Walker is the fourth transgender person killed so far this year. Tonya Harvey, 35, was recently shot and killed in Buffalo, New York.

“These murders need to stop, especially in the trans community,” Parks said.

Living as a transgender person comes with challenges that Parks believes the community is not doing enough to address.

“We're last for everything - housing, medical, jobs,” Parks said.

Parks said as a result, some people in the transgender community often struggle and make tough choices to make ends meet.

“They find themselves in situations dangerous situations they put themselves out there to try to survive,” Parks said.

Parks does daily outreach in the trans community.

“I try to get them housing, name changes, job training,” Parks said.

Parks said she's emailed Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry and hopes to meet with him to discuss how to improve inclusion and opportunities for the local transgender community.  She also would like to see more sensitivity from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and training for its officers.

Parks believes transgender people should be free to live with pride and with a sense of security.

“When you see trans people … If you see me, I’m a woman. Matters a damn what you see on my ID. I want to be presented as a woman. I want to be treated as a woman and I want to be respected as a woman,” Parks said.

Parks is planning to put together a vigil to honor Celine Walker.  Anyone interested in getting involved or those in the transgender community who need assistance can reach Parks on the Transgender Awareness Project Facebook page.