String of Black LGBTQ+ murders sparks fear of serial killer in Central Florida community
In Central Florida, the two cities of Jacksonville and Orlando have been the target of a string of serial murders targeting Black LGBTQ+ people. Many are anxious and worried about their safety.
The latest deaths occurred on July 19th. Jessie Sumlar, a Black femme gay man, was a 30-year-old drag performer who was killed and found dead in his Jacksonville home. Hours before, 27-year-old Sasha Garden was killed outside her Orlando home.
A total of four Black trans women and one Black femme man have died since February. According to Florida Phoenix, the victims all worked for the same drag show tour.
Other deaths include Celine Walker, a 36-year-old Black trans woman, who was shot and killed in her hotel room on February 4th. Antash’a English, a 38-year-old Black trans woman, was shot and left between two empty houses on June 1st. And on June 24th, Cathalina Christina James, a 24-year-old Black trans woman, was shot at a hotel. All of these murders took place in Jacksonville.
Gina Duncan, Director of Transgender Equality at Equality Florida, states, “Your mind wanders — do we have a guy working his way down I-10, working his way across the South? There’s no telling… It has the community living in fear, until there’s some results in reference to these investigations.”
Earlier in the investigation, the Orlando County Sheriff’s department was criticized for misgendering Sasha Garden.
The department released an apology on July 21st, stating, “In the early stages of this homicide investigation, the OCSO released details regarding the legal name of the victim as required by state statute, along with other details that might assist detectives in solving this heinous crime. At that time the Orange County Sheriff’s Office did not know the individual was transgender and had only one goal in mind, finding and apprehending a suspect.”
The local community, state representatives, and LGBT organizations have been pressing for a statement from the FL governor, Rick Scott, to acknowledge the murders.
Duncan states, “During the horrific Pulse murders, Gov. Scott also refused to identify the community by name. He called them murders, but he never said the word ‘LGBT’.”
Duncan continues, “That’s why we’re calling out the governor, asking him to bring in state resources and to say the word transgender which he’s never said publicly… It may seem like a small thing, but that lack of acknowledgment of the community is part of the problem.”