Friends of a transgender woman burned to death in Clewiston last week say she was killed because of her gender identity. Police are still searching for a motive behind the killing of Bee Love Slater, a Pahokee native.
“I think she was targeted because of her life style,” said Desmond Vereen, who called himself Slater’s “gay mother.”
Slater, 23, is the 18th transgender person killed in the U.S. this year. In June, the American Medical Association called violence against transgender people an “epidemic.”
“It’s frustrating, it’s heartbreaking that we continue to witness the absolute slaughter of transgender people,” said Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s director of transgender equality.
Police found Slater’s body in a burned-out vehicle early Sept. 4 but it took several days to be able to identify her from dental records.
While some social media reports speculated Slater had been shot and tied up in the car, no evidence has confirmed this, according to Captain Susan Harrelle of the Hendry County Sheriff’s department.
Police will not classify Slater’s death as a hate crime until they can “clearly prove” the reason for the killing, Harrelle said. There are no suspects yet in what police say is one of the most brutal murders in county history.
Florida’s hate-crime statute encompasses sexual orientation but does not include gender identity, excluding transgender people from protection under that law, LGBTQ advocates say.
The state led the nation in killings of transgender people last year, with at least five homicides, according to the Human Rights Campaign, which tracks these crimes.
None of the killings were designated as hate crimes, according to Equality Florida’s Duncan.
Slater’s death also draws attention to larger issues of discrimination transgender women face across all avenues of life, said Micky Bradford, a National Organizer with the Transgender Law Center.
“Trans women deserve dignity and respect, just like any other person,” Bradford said. “Unfortunately, the only time we seem to be on anyone’s minds is when we are murdered.”
Slater’s friends celebrated her life in a vigil over the weekend, spelling out her name with candles, singing tributes and holding up pink balloons.
Dezmond Bass, one of the vigil’s organizers, had only met Slater this year but had been touched by her kindness and shocked by her death.
“I just broke down crying,” Bass said. “I couldn’t go to work.”
Slater was saving up for a new car and sometimes talked about moving to Atlanta, a place she felt would be more accepting of transgender people, according to her friends.
They remember a vibrant and outgoing woman who had recently transitioned in her gender identity earlier this year. She mentored others in the LGBTQ community and stood by them in difficult times.
“She always had a smile on her face. She always was caring,” Vereen said. “She always gave hugs and kisses, always told you that she loved you.”