Rachel Rose remembers Diamond Williams as a person with a big personality and an even bigger heart.
"She was so full of life. She was funny and we used to laugh. And I remember just acting silly with her and I just miss her because we had a lot of great times," Rose said.
“She was a very loving, caring, and creative person. We were family. We were like sisters and she loved her sisters. No one should ever have to die the way she died.”
According to police, Williams was killed last week after having relations with 43-year-old Charles Sargent. Sargent allegedly killed Williams, dismembered her inside his apartment and dumped her body parts in a field in North Philadelphia.
Rose, 30, a close friend of Williams fought back tears as she addressed family and friends who gathered for a vigil in Williams' honor at Love Park in Center City on Tuesday night.
"You know, every time a transgender or gay person is murdered its overlooked, and no one cares. And I promised I wouldn't cry but I feel like people think, oh, it’s another tranny, who cares. Oh it’s another gay person, who cares. But I pray for equality. I pray that we have the same rights and respect that everyone else has," Rose said.
Director of LGBT affairs for Mayor Michael Nutter, Gloria Casarez, was in attendance at the vigil, hugging attendees and delivering words of comfort. Casarez noted that several transgender women have been murdered in the City in recent years; the only difference this time, she says, is that the perpetrator has been arrested.
“Less than a year ago at our LGBT community center, we gathered for Kyra Kruz, who was murdered. Her murderer is still out there. Two years before Kyra, we gathered right here at Love Park for Stacey Blahnik who was murdered. Her murderer is still out there. And almost 11 years ago, we gathered for Nizah Morris who was murdered. Her murderer is still out there. Today we’re gathered for Diamond who was brutally murdered over the weekend,” Casarez said.
“The only bright spot in this story is that her murderer has been captured. Her murderer will see justice. And I pledge that we will keep attention on Diamond’s brutal murder. We will keep attention on this case for Diamond, for Kyra, for Nizah for Stacey and all of us who have experienced violence because of who we are.”
Williams’ death has again prompted conversation about domestic violence against transgender women and men, and put a spotlight on some of the other issues faced by members of the LGBT community.
Rose, who met Williams at a home in West Philadelphia nearly 16 years ago, said Williams had a troubled past.
“As the years went by, we both started to go through our transition and she began to get on drugs. She pretty much just struggled with the struggles that transgender women and men face every day, being discriminated against, being scrutinized, it’s hard to find a job. Not being accepted in society the way that she wanted to probably drove her deeper into her addiction and working in the sex industry,” she said.
Cassie Hart, 35, another longtime friend of Williams said some of the health services that transgender women and men need, including surgical procedures, hormone replacement therapy, and laser hair removal can cost anywhere from $1,000 to $20,000. Hart says some women in the transgender community turn to prostitution for money because they feel they have nowhere else to turn.
“I mean it’s hard. We want to live a lifestyle that you need a phenomenal job to live. If you don’t have a phenomenal job, it leaves you an option to do what, work in a sex workers union. The sex industry, we fool ourselves into believing it’s not unsafe. We know that there are safety issues though,” Hart said.
“It’s scary, but you tune it out. If you do it long enough you’ll begin to not even know who the client is. You see them, but you don’t see them because it’s all about the financial gain. You don’t know them, they call you on the phone and you don’t know which way it’s gonna go. You pray that it goes well; you hope that it’s just about the business aspect but as you see it doesn’t always go that way.”
The Trans Murder Monitoring project report released by Transgender Europe (TGEU) in May found that over the past five years there were a total of 1,123 reported killings of trans people in 57 countries worldwide with 69 of those killings occurring in the United States.
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Deja Alvarez is a peer outreach worker at the Mazzoni Center, one of the organizers of the vigil and one of several health care facilities in the city that cater to the specific health needs of the LGBT community.
Alvarez said the center’s new Trans* Wellness Project hopes to be a one-stop-shop for transgender needs, including services for transgender men and women involved in the sex industry.
“Basically what we’re setting out to be is a one-stop-shop for all Trans needs, be it hormones, medical attention, etc. We offer a free clinic on the first and third Friday every month, which requires no insurance. Trans people need the same care that everyone else needs,” Alvarez said.
“It is true on a large scale that because of discrimination that we face, that we are forced into sex work. So we do go out to these areas where sex workers are, we pass out condoms, and we give them literature to let them know of the resources we have. If they’re trying hard to get out of that and they need the name change and they need housing, we want them to know that we’re here to help,” she said.
Casarez pledged to continue to fight for LGBT rights but warned against transgender women and men placing themselves in unsafe situations.
“We will fight. We will fight because Diamond, Kyra, Stacey and Nizah can’t fight. We’ve done a lot of work here in Philadelphia on LGBT issues, and I’m proud to be a part of these changes in law, policies, and protections; we still have work to do. But no number of laws, policies or protections is going to keep you safe in a dangerous situation. We can’t be lulled into a false sense of security.”