Following the deaths of Ciara McElveen and Chyna Gibson in New Orleans and Jaquarrius Holland in Monroe, advocacy group Transitions Louisiana will host a town hall on transgender violence next week. The meeting is 3 p.m.-5 p.m. Friday, March 10 at First Unitarian Universalist Church of New Orleans (2903 Jefferson Ave.). NOPD's LGBT liaison Sgt. Frank Robertson and At-Large City Councilmember Jason Williams also will be present. The violence in 2017 follows two of the deadliest years for transgender people in the U.S., including several deaths in Louisiana.
"This is a crucial moment in New Orleans and in the country itself," Transitions Louisiana Executive Director J. Mercedes Cardona told Gambit.
Four transgender women were murdered in the U.S. within the last week, including the three murders in Louisiana. According to the Anti-Violence Project, there have been at least seven murders of transgender people this year, following a deadly 2016, in which there were at least 27 murders of transgender and gender nonconforming people. There were at least 21 deaths in 2015. NOPD doesn't believe the murders of McElveen and Gibson are connected or are believed to be hate crimes, though no arrests have been made. NOPD is seeking two persons of interest in Gibson's murder and the driver of a Chevrolet Camaro in connection with McElveen's murder. The murders also come several weeks after a violent hate crime against a transgender woman was caught on camera and uploaded to YouTube.
Hate crime statutes with the city and state don't explicitly protect gender identity, instead referring to "actual or perceived" gender and sexual orientation.
On March 2, a massive crowd held a memorial for Gibson at Armstrong Park.
"Our over-arching goals in addition to visibility is to show that transgender people are capable of movement building, mobilizing and that our work is worthy of respect from our colleagues," Cardona told Gambit. "We believe in justice and that we, as transgender people, should be afforded basic human rights. Part of justice means that we should be free to live in our truths without the looming threat of violence that we are facing constantly just for being different. We are appealing to the powers at be to recognize the tragedy of the moment and also give us whatever resources and/or guidance to be able to engage and live honored and dignified lives in our truths and to be able to do that right here at home."
Robertson delivered a plea to the public following the January hate crime, urging, "If anyone you know or possibly yourself has been in a similar situations like this, please, feel free to contact us." NOPD also recently introduced Robertson as the department's "official liaison to the city's [LGBT] community."
“I know their names so I can put them in touch with people in the community,” Robertson said in a statement. “I also encourage members of the community to contact detectives with information. I help them understand the importance of reporting a crime and help walk them through things like filling out a police report. I really serve as a funnel to bridge the gap between the two groups.”
Robertson said "the gay community often feels NOPD is not sympathetic to them and I want to communicate that the NOPD is here and listening to them." He can be reached at (504) 301-5869.
"I’ve heard the concerns and I’ve had people tell me they’re afraid to talk to the police, so I encourage people to come forward with whatever they have that might help an investigation," he said.