HRC mourns the loss of Sasha Garden, a Black transgender woman, who was found dead with signs of trauma in Orlando, Florida, early July 19. Originally from Wisconsin, Garden, 27, is remembered by loved ones as a “firecracker” who “didn’t hold anything back.”
Friend and local transgender activist Mulan Montrese Williams recalls that Garden was a talented and aspiring hair stylist and had been saving money to fund her transition.
HRC is deeply concerned by troubling reports of police misconduct during the investigation into Garden’s death. According to news reports, officers used anti-transgender slurs when asking Williams, who is also transgender, to identify her friend Garden's body. HRC calls for a full review of conduct by the Orange County Sheriff’s Office regarding Garden’s death and recommends additional sensitivity training for all officers and support staff.
As occurs far too often in the reporting of anti-transgender violence, local media outlets also initially misgendered Garden and used inappropriate and offensive terminology when describing the tragedy. According to Orlando Weekly, two broadcast stations refused to issue corrections until six hours after first contacted by Garden’s friends about the errors.
Garden’s death follows a disturbing wave of violence that has shaken the LGBTQ community in Florida, claiming the lives of three transgender women in Jacksonville in the past six months alone. Officials at the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office have continued to misgender victims in police reports and public statements -- even after repeated calls from local activists and community members to respect the identities of their loved ones.
"It's very scary, especially when I'm living in the same neighborhood that [Garden’s death] happened," said Williams in an interview with the Orlando Weekly. "Sasha was a good person. Sasha's life was ended too early."
Across the country, transgender people -- and especially transgender women of color -- still face bias, discrimination and violence in too many facets of life. Limited access to education, employment, health care and social services can lead to higher rates of poverty, homelessness or engagement in survival sex work, which her friend says Garden may have been engaging in at the time of her death.
Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment too often seen from law enforcement, media reporting and our highest elected officials. In the pursuit of greater accuracy and respect, HRC offers guidelines for journalists and others who report on transgender people.
Sadly, Garden’s death marks the 15th known murder of a transgender or non-binary person this year. Last fall, the HRC Foundation and the Trans People of Color Coalition released a comprehensive report detailing this tragic epidemic that made 2017 the deadliest year on record for transgender people.
To learn more about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit hrc.org/Transgender.