On December 7th, Kelly Stough, a 36-year-old black transgender woman from Detroit, was shot and killed in the city’s Palmer Park neighborhood. On Monday, Albert Weathers, a 46-year-old preacher, was charged in her murder.
The Wayne County prosecutor’s office charged Weathers with the use of a firearm in the commission of a felony and open murder, a designation that allows the prosecutors to decide on a degree of murder or manslaughter as more information about the case becomes available. Prosecutors said they will bring evidence that the fact that Stough was transgender was a factor in her murder.
Stough, who also went by the name Keanna Mattel, was at least the 26th trans person murdered in the United States in 2018, according to a running tally kept by the Human Rights Watch.
“I want people to know that because she was transgender doesn’t mean that she was not loved, that she was not cared for,” Jessica Chantae Stough, Kelly’s mother, told NBC News. “She has a family who cared about her, who loved her and I want them to know that transgender ladies — expressly those of color — they’re just not throwaways; people care about them.”
Stough was an aspiring fashion designer and well-known in Detroit’s ballroom dance scene. She was also an outspoken advocate for her community, speaking out against the violence facing trans people, and especially trans women of color. “The police are unaware with our struggle so they have no sympathy for us,” she told the Guardian in 2015 after the murder of 20-year-old trans woman Amber Monroe in Palmer Park — the same neighborhood where Stough was killed three years later.
There were 29 recorded murders of trans people in 2017, making it the deadliest year on record for trans people in the U.S., and 2018’s numbers show that the threat is not letting up. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) tracks homicides of LGBTQ people, and put out a report last year showing that trans women of color are at greater risk of being killed in hate crimes than any other group, and that the rates of these murders have been steadily rising for the last several years.
“Abuses based on sexual orientation and gender identity cannot be tolerated,” says Laura Palumbo, communications director for the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, which partners with the NCAVP. “In 2019 we need more efforts to promote the visibility of transgender individuals in our communities and to strengthen efforts to combat anti-trans violence in order to protect everyone’s dignity and safety.”
“Police need to build trust with the transgender community by effectively investigating hate crimes and by treating transgender individuals with dignity and respect,” she says. “Responsible media coverage can bring visibility to the staggering rates of violence, discrimination and inequity faced by the transgender community.”
A special prosecutor has been assigned to Weathers’ case, from the Fair Michigan Justice Project, which is collaboration between the Prosecutor’s Office and Fair Michigan Foundation, an LGBTQ advocacy organization. Fair Michigan President Dana Nessel said in a press release about Stough’s murder, “This case reflects the excessive brutality that members of Detroit’s transgender community constantly face. We thank the Detroit Police Department for their efforts to investigate the facts of this tragic crime.”
The attorney for Weathers did not immediately respond to a request for comment.