With the discovery of her body near a Tampa, Florida, basketball court on Tuesday morning, India Clarke became the 10th transgender woman to be murdered in the United States this year—and the ninth transgender woman of color. (And that, of course, only counts those homicides that have been reported.) As of Thursday, local police are still searching for a suspect.
Clarke’s death is obviously a tragedy in itself—part of what many advocates are calling an epidemic of trans killings—but the sadness of her loss is being compounded by how callously local officials and news outlets are treating her memory in refusing to honor her trans identity, which is clearly communicated on her Facebook profile. As BuzzFeed’s Dominic Holden reported earlier this week, Tampa law enforcement is openly and crassly disputing Clarke’s transgender status:
“We are not going to categorize him as a transgender. We can just tell you he had women’s clothing on at the time,” Detective Larry McKinnon, a spokesman for the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, told BuzzFeed News. “What his lifestyle was prior to that we don’t know—whether he was a cross dresser, we don’t know.”
Initial calls to 911 described the victim as a woman but a medical examiner later identified her as male, McKinnon said.
“He is a male,” McKinnon continued. “I can’t tell you he is a female.”
Likewise, a local news report initially described Clarke as a “man in a dress.”
In a word in which Caitlyn Jenner is starring in a reality show so respectful it’s boring and winning courage awards to wide acclaim, it’s easy to imagine that transgender folks are getting their fair share of attention and respect. But Clarke’s murder—and more upsettingly, the cruel disregard for her identity by those sworn to protect her—clearly demonstrates that such perceptions are false. Trans people are still some of the most marginalized individuals in our society, and, as things currently stand, they cannot count on dignity, even in death.