On the still dark morning of Sept. 4, tucked behind a rural Florida neighborhood dotted with single-story houses painted bright green, turquoise and pink, flames licked the metal frame of a PT Cruiser parked in the grass. When Hendry County Sheriff’s deputies doused the flames, they found a woman’s body inside so badly burned she couldn’t be identified for days.

Now police say that Bee Love Slater, a black, transgender 23-year-old from South Florida, was murdered. Investigators have not announced any suspects or leads, and the sheriff’s office told reporters they could not say whether the grisly homicide was a hate crime.

“We can’t say it’s a hate crime yet because we don’t know what the motive was,” Hendry County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Susan Harrelle told ABC 7.

But advocates say Slater was the latest victim in an alarming trend, as transgender murders are spiking across the United States — particularly in Florida, where the hate crime statute does not apply to people attacked for their gender identity.

“Our society needs to work to ensure transpeople can live without fear,” the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida said in a statement about Slater’s death.

Slater’s body was found at the edge of Harlem, Fla., a small community about 65 miles west of West Palm Beach. Slater lived about 32 miles away around the southern bend of Lake Okeechobee in Pahokee, Fla., an economically depressed town best known for producing NFL talent. Her friends say Slater, who transitioned her gender earlier this year, wanted to save money to move to Atlanta, where she believed people would be more accepting of her transgender identity.

“She always had a smile on her face,” her friend Desmond Vereen, who called himself her “gay mother,” told the Miami Herald. “She always gave hugs and kisses, always told you that she loved you.”

But more recently, Slater began posting on Facebook that she had received harassing messages that scared her, a friend told Out Magazine. She reportedly texted a friend that she wanted to leave town the night she died.

“She posted messages saying she felt as if people were after her to attack and hurt her and she had a conversation with one of her best friends the day she was murdered saying she wanted to leave,” her friend Antorris Williams told Out. “She was willing to sleep in her car until she found a job and things of that nature.”

So far, the sheriff’s office says there is “no evidence” about the cause of her death ⁠ — in part because her car was scorched to its metal frame. Meanwhile, her friends and transgender rights advocates are demanding justice.

“How could someone go to that extreme to get rid of her?” her friend Kenard Wade told WINK news. “I just want justice for her.”

At least 18 transgender people have been murdered in the United States this year, according to Human Rights Campaign advocates who track the homicides. Last year, advocates counted 26 murders, including five in Florida, the highest number in any state.

While Florida’s hate crime statute allows prosecutors to seek stiffer penalties when a crime is motivated by malice toward someone’s “race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin,” gender identity, including transgender identity, is not protected under the state law. Advocates say that limitation can leave transgender people more vulnerable to violence.

“These victims are not numbers — they were people with hopes and plans, dreams for the future, loved ones and communities who will miss them every day,” writes Matilda Young for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group. “Anti-transgender stigma is exacerbated by callous or disrespectful treatment too often seen from media, law enforcement and our highest elected officials.”

On Sept. 6, the day Slater was identified by the medical examiner, friends and supporters dressed in pink gathered on the grounds of an apartment complex in Pahokee. They lit candles arranged to spell out “Bee Love.” They sang together and held dozens of pink balloons shaped like hearts and stars. People took turns telling stories about Slater and remembering her life. The crowd cheered for Slater as they let go of the balloons, which floated away into the night sky.

“I’m here, and I’m going to speak and do whatever I have to do,” Vereen said. “Her name is going to live on.”

study out Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry finds transgender people have significantly increased risk of attempting suicide if they've been exposed to efforts to convert their gender identity.

The study was authored by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, McLean Hospital and The Fenway Institute.

They found transgender individuals who experienced gender identity conversion efforts by a therapist or religious adviser were more than twice as likely to attempt suicide.

"And we found that if those conversion efforts were during childhood that there was even a stronger, more dramatic association between having a professional try and change the person's gender identity and later having a suicide attempt," says Dr. Jack Turban, a resident physician in psychiatry at MGH and McLean Hospital.

When the efforts to change someone's gender identity from transgender to cisgender happened before age 10, the chances of the person later attempting suicide more than quadrupled, the researchers found.

The study's senior author, Dr. Alex Keuroghlian, is a psychiatrist at Mass. General Hospital and directs the National LGBT Health Education Center at The Fenway Institute. He hopes the findings will lead to better care of transgender people.

"It's critically important that gender-affirming care is part of standard training of clinicians across the country so that we can avoid these really dangerous practices and potentially fatal health outcomes," Keuroghlian says.

The researchers say most leading medical societies, including the American Medical Association, have called gender identity conversion efforts unethical. But prior to this study, there wasn't concrete data to solidify an association between exposure to conversion efforts and negative mental health outcomes.

The study analyzed data from a prior survey of more than 27,000 transgender adults.

The same researchers recently published a study that found nearly 200,000 transgender people in the U.S. had experienced efforts to convert their gender identities.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a ban on the practice in April. Seventeen other states have also banned sexuality and gender conversion efforts.

WASHINGTON— Bailey Reeves, at 17-years-young, and Bee Love, at only 18, became the 17th and 18th trans people murdered in the United States this year. Bailey, a trans woman of color, was found dead in Baltimore, Maryland, over Labor Day weekend. Bee, a Black trans woman, was found with her hands tied, shot and burned to death in her car in Clewiston, Florida. Too many trans women, and especially too many Black trans women are being murdered and it is beyond time that as a community we stand together and call for an end to these heinous acts.

David Johns, Executive Director of the National Black Justice Coalition ( NBJC ), released this statement:

"We know that Black women, both trans and cis, face extreme and disproportionate levels of violence. Black trans women being murdered is becoming too common. We must do more than stand silently in solidarity. We must say their names and be called to act. We are not doing enough to ensure that all members of our community are able to live happy, healthy, and whole lives.

"Supporting trans and cisgender women alike, is more than quoting from popular television shows or reposting on social media. We must supplement those actions with sustained and meaningful civic, political, and community action that ensures that Black women girls, both trans and cis, are protected in principle and in practice. A critical first step toward meaningful action is having asset-based, stigma-free conversations about these issues and opportunities.

"NBJC developed the Words Matter Gender Justice Toolkit to facilitate uncomfortable and, at times, difficult conversations that can save lives. This specific toolkit has been designed with the goal of ending the violence that Black women and girls—both cisgender and transgender—as well as gender nonconforming people experience simply as a result of who they are and how they exist in the world. We hope that this resource will be helpful to those who desire to honor the lives and legacies of our sisters by doing more to ensure that Black trans women and girls can thrive."

Learn more about violence against transgender people in the US in 2019 at nbjc.org/blog/mourning-those-we-have-lost .

The National Black Justice Coalition ( NBJC ) is America's leading civil rights organization dedicated to the empowerment of Black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and same gender loving ( LGBTQ/SGL ) people, including people living with HIV/AIDS.

A transgender woman is believed to be the victim whose body was found inside a burned car in Southwest Florida on Wednesday.

Hendry County deputies were alerted by a call about a vehicle fire in the area of 13th Street and Virginia Avenue in Harlem, Fla., a census-designated place just outside the city of Clewiston.

Investigators discovered a body in the vehicle, saying both were burned “beyond recognition,” according to NBC2.

Police are asking members of the community to provide any information they may have about the murder. Local reports say that the victim was shot, tied up and killed after the car they were sitting in was set alight.

Kenard Wade told WINK News that he believes his friend, a transgender woman, was the one found inside the burned car. He also says he believes she was targeted because she was transgender.

Wade, who last saw his friend on Sunday, says he believes he spoke with her the night she died. She told him in text messages that she wanted to leave town, and was worried she could be in trouble if she stayed around.

Investigators have not yet released the name of the victim, saying they are waiting for results from the medical examiner.

But Wade says he believes his best friend was the victim, telling WINK News: “That’s her car. I now that. I know her car.”

A spokesperson for the District 21 Medical Examiner’s Office, which deals with deaths in Lee, Hendry, and Glades counties, did not respond to an inquiry from Metro Weekly as of press time.

The victim has been identified in some social media postings as Bee Love. The group Trans In-Formation wrote on its Facebook page: “Bee Love, a black transgender woman was found burned in her car in Clewiston, Florida. Shot, with her hands tied. This woman was tortured. This is NOT OKAY! “

If Love is eventually confirmed as the victim, she would become the 18th transgender person killed in the United States this year.

People with information about the crime or believe they may have seen something suspicious are encouraged to contact the Hendry County Sheriff’s Office at 863-674-5600 or, if they desire anonymity, to call Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS. Those who provide information leading to an arrest may be eligible to receive a cash award of up to $3,000.

The attack broke Lauren Jackson’s bones, but not her spirit.

“Thankfully, I’m still alive. Thankfully, the injuries weren’t worse,” she told The Oregonian/OregonLive.

Jackson, a transgender woman, was severely beaten by a man she didn’t know after using a women’s bathroom at an Oregon coast park near Newport late last month, police and prosecutors allege. Jackson was visiting Oregon for the first time.

The assailant’s blows shattered her jaw in multiple places and fractured her skull, according to the woman and police.

She spent the next week in the hospital.

The man, Fred Costanza, 37, an unemployed Idaho resident, is accused of a felony hate crime. He was arraigned Monday in Lincoln County Circuit Court on charges of first-degree intimidation, second-degree assault, menacing and harassment.

Jackson, 29, said she is healing, flourishing.

“I’m in the best place in my life, even after this attack,” she said. “I’m happier, more peaceful and loving life more than ever before.”

Why?

“Because I’m just me. I haven’t always been.”

Jackson had lived up until last year as a man, she said. She’d been married to a woman in Salt Lake City. She had a career in the music industry.

But Jackson said she never felt comfortable or whole until she came out as transgender. Her intuition later told her to seek a fresh start in the Pacific Northwest, a place she had never visited.

Jackson took her first estrogen pills the day she packed her car and left Utah several weeks ago. Her travels took her to Eugene briefly and then over to the coast.

“It was a crazy adventure,” she said. “I had just started transitioning. Everything was brand new.”

She had been in Oregon only 10 days when she found herself at Agate Beach State Recreation Site on Aug. 24.

The morning began with meditation, yoga and a bathroom break at the park’s public restroom, Jackson said. She went to the grocery store and returned to make breakfast by the beach.

Nearly an hour after using the women’s restroom, Jackson said she saw Costanza approaching her from across the park. Enraged, he started screaming at her.

“He kept saying, ‘Oh, you think you’re some kind of lady?’” Jackson said. “Suddenly, he punched my face. He grabbed my hair.”

Witnesses told police Costanza struck Jackson more than 10 times before leaving the park with his wife, Mazie Costanza. Jackson was rushed to the hospital.

An officer on scene reported finding large amounts of blood on the ground, court records show. Costanza returned later that day to the beach and was arrested.

Mitchell Martin, listed in records as a court-appointed attorney for Costanza, did not return a phone call and email seeking comment Thursday. Mazie Costanza declined to comment.

Jackson said she has been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support she’s received since the attack. Emails and phone calls have poured in from around the country. Members of Oregon’s LGBTQ community have reached out and welcomed her arrival.

Jackson is now staying at a short-term rental outside of Portland and looking for a permanent home, she said.

“I’ll continue trying to build the life I see for myself around what I’ve been given,” she said.

Costanza remains in the Lincoln County jail on $250,000 bail.

Jackson said she holds little resentment toward her suspected attacker.

“I don’t’ want to hate this guy. He’s also searching for something,” Jackson said. “I hope that he can walk away from a situation like this and maybe make shifts in his life as well.

“But that’s up to him.”

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