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Homicides of transgender individuals in U.S. reach alarming high

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Philadelphia has experienced two confirmed homicides of transgender people this year — as have Detroit and Kansas City. In May, London Chanel was fatally stabbed by her roommate’s boyfriend inside an abandoned North Philadelphia home; on Oct. 6, Kiesha Jenkins, 22, was attacked and shot to death by a group of men.

Police Capt. James Clark said Jenkins was a prostitute, and described the assault as a robbery, not a hate crime. Police soon arrested a suspect with a prior record of robbery arrests, and the search for other suspects continues.

Nellie Fitzpatrick, a former assistant district attorney who now heads the Philadelphia mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs, said some members of the local transgender community harbored long-standing mistrust of the police and were frustrated that Jenkins’ killing was not being investigated as a hate crime, though Pennsylvania does not have a hate-crimes law covering gender identity.

Fitzpatrick, a lesbian who has championed LGBT rights, credited the police department with working to improve relations and gain more cooperation for its investigations of anti-transgender violence.

In late 2013, responding to pressure from activists, the department established formal guidelines for officers’ interactions with transgender people. The guidelines include addressing transgender individuals by the names and pronouns they prefer, even if those are not reflected on the person’s driver’s license or other ID.

Deputy Police Commissioner Kevin Bethel acknowledged there has been “a history of conflict and lack of trust” between the department and LGBT Philadelphians. He said the guidelines, as well as LGBT-specific components in training at the police academy, were having a positive impact.

“It’s not perfect,” he said. “But we’re moving in the right direction.”

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