This is the story of a mourned woman in Florida, and an activist in Atlanta.
Sasha Garden, an African-American trans woman, was recently killed in Orlando. Sasha’s body was found at 5am on July 19th, behind the reserve at Lake Buchanan Apartments. The Milwaukee native, 27, was training to be a hair stylist, and was described by friends as a “firecracker.” Her body showed signs of trauma.
Mulan Montrese Williams, a trans advocate and friend of Sasha’s, told the media that “So many different times, trans violence happens, and we don’t get justice.”
A final, more troubling moment was to come. According to Mulan and area news organizations, when local officers asked her to identify her friend’s remains, they employed what were described as “anti-transgender slurs.”
Moreover, they misgendered Sasha in their public statements.
And so, when the Orange County, Florida Sheriff’s office described her as a man “in a wig and dress” who “was found murdered behind a hotel,” Atlanta trans advocate Arica Love Royal wasn’t having it.
Royal reached out to authorities in law enforcement and the media. She advocated for the Orange County Sheriff’s Office in Florida to acknowledge their mistake.
Describing herself as an Atlanta-situated “post-op trans woman” and “advocate for LGBTQ rights, human rights, and transgender rights” Royal is the creator of the “What’s the T” advocacy network. The WTT claims seven LGBTQ podcasts in their network. The organization’s Facebook page describes it as a “weekly Facebook Live and YouTube channel webcast” hosted by Arica.
“The trans community was so disrespected by the verbiage of ‘a body of a man found in a wig and dress,’” Arica says. “That’s horrible.”
Two local broadcast stations declined to offer any corrections until six hours after being contacted by Sasha’s friends. Numerous advocacy groups were brought into the fray, including the Human Rights Campaign, who called “for a full review of conduct by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office regarding [Sasha’s] death and recommends additional sensitivity training for all officers and support staff.”
This is about more than one tragic killing. Sasha’s death is the latest in a deeply troubling pattern of violence targeting African-American transgender women in Florida. According to Pink News, the homicide marks the fifteenth unlawful killing of a trans person in America in the year 2018. The Orlando Weekly stated that her death may be connected to “three other black transgender women who were killed within the past five months in Jacksonville.”
Which brings us back to Arica, who recalls the moment she heard the news.
“I thought about it for a little while,” she says, “and I was like, ‘Maybe that individual was transitioning or transgender.’”
Arica stresses that this was an insult to the LGBTQ community of Orlando, “especially with the community still reeling from the aftereffects of the Pulse shooting.” She contends that “any major media needs to be respectful to any community within its news-viewing areas … the LGBTQ community included.”
So she took action immediately, and called the Orange County Sheriff’s Office. “I had some questions for the public relations and media relations department.”
Throughout the course of the day, she says, there were calls “back and forth.” It was evening by the time she received a call from Captain Carlos Torres of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.
“He told me he was on a recorded line,” Arica explains, “and I told him I was recording it for my show ‘What’s the T.’”
“He totally took complete responsibility for the press release.” Arica says that Torres “did acknowledge that the individual was transgender.”
Arica continues: “He apologized not only to the LGBTQ community as a whole, but the Orlando LGBTQ community and the transgender community. That’s a victory for us, and steps forward. Her name was Sasha, and she was transitioning. She was a human being. All we’re asking for is respect and dignity.”
“And the way that trans people are treated in America today … we are all human beings,” she says. “And when something like that is released in the press, it’s horrific for the transgender community — it is so disrespectful.”
“We didn’t ask to be this way. This is what our brains are telling our bodies. It’s very difficult for some of my trans brothers and sisters — each day can be a struggle.”
Arica, who recently won a Georgia Voice award for activism, says that she takes the well-being of the community very seriously. Although her award was given in Atlanta, the responsibility doesn’t end at the state line.
“I take it very seriously. I have a commitment to my LGBTQ community, and to the transgender community.”