Her body was so severely decomposed when it turned up in a vacant field along Riverside Boulevard in Dallas that area police had difficulty identifying murder victim Shade Schuler and even determining her race.
Schuler, 22, was found dead on July 29, clad in a blue and white tube top, blue shorts, a black wig and pink press-on nails with diamond studs, according to local media reports. But Dallas police weren’t able to confirm it was Schuler until Monday, almost two weeks later, after which transgender advocacy groups confirmed what they had feared — Schuler was a transgender woman.
While police don’t yet know the motive for her killing, she is the 13th reported transgender homicide victim in the United States so far in 2015, already surpassing the 12 known trans murders in all of 2014. This year, 11 of those victims have been women of color — including Schuler, who was black — according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, an umbrella organization for dozens of LGBT anti-violence groups across the country.
“We are extremely alarmed by the killing of Ms. Shade Schuler, the fourth transgender woman that we know of who has been killed since the end of July,” Chai Jindasurat, a co-director of community organizing and public advocacy at the New York City Anti-Violence Project, said in a statement issued to media.
Last weekend an African-American trans woman, Amber Mason, a 20-year-old student at Wayne State University, was shot dead in Detroit, according to the Human Rights Campaign. On July 21, a black transgender woman, India Clarke, was found beaten to death in a park in Tampa, Florida. Two days after that, a trans woman named K.C. Haggard was stabbed to death while walking down the street in Fresno, California, according to news reports.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs in June published a report saying that reported homicides of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people rose by 11 percent in 2014. The group says transgender women of color are disproportionately affected: Among the 20 LGBT murder victims reported last year, 16 were African-American or Latino, and 11 were transgender women.
“We are at a crisis at this point,” Raffi Freedman-Gurspan, a policy adviser at the Washington-based National Center for Transgender Equality, said of the murders. In the last two years, beginning with the murder of Islan Nettles in New York City in August 2013, there have been 33 trans women killed in the U.S., she said. “At this point … we really would like to see some kind of response from [state and federal] authorities.”
Further complicating the issue, in the days after Schuler’s body was found, Dallas police and local media reported that she was a man, which trans rights advocates say is a common problem when transgender people are killed.
They took to Twitter on Wednesday morning, asking The Dallas Morning News to update its article about Schuler’s death and the police investigation.
“Tip to media: If you see a police report about a ‘male’ dressed in female clothing, wait 10 seconds and ask ‘is this person trans?’” tweeted Carlos Maza, the LGBT program director at Media Matters for America.
The newspaper updated its story with a note shortly afterward that Schuler was gender nonconforming.
Nell Gaither, president of the Trans Pride Initiative in Dallas, said persistent employment, housing and public accommodation discrimination against trans people means they are often unable to secure above-the-table jobs, an education or proper medical treatment.
“That forces us into the underground employment community, including sex work,” she said. “It’s the discrimination in society that puts people in more violent situations, and that needs to be addressed.”