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Central Standard

In Wake Of Murders, Transgender People Feel There's A 'Bull's Eye' On Them In Kansas City

Cody Newill
Photos of Tamara Dominguez, a transgender Latina woman, were on display at an August memorial service. Dominguez was brutally killed a few weeks ago.

Kris Wade remembers 33-year-old Jasmine Collins, as a "young person, out there, struggling to survive on her own." 

Collins, a transgender woman, was stabbed to death in June.

Wade had known Collins for about a year as part of the Justice Project, a non-profit that provides advocacy and services to transgender women in poverty, among others.

Credit Andrea Tudhope / KCUR
The Holiday Apartment Complex in Harlem was the scene of the murder of Jasmine Collins in June. Advocates have identified this as the 18th murder of a transgender person in 2015.

But Kansas City police officers say they can’t confirm that Collins was a transgender woman.

They originally described Collins' murder as a conflict over a haircut and a pair of shoes. A suspect has been charged in her death — which advocates say has put Kansas City on the map of a disturbing national trend.

On Monday, the Guardian newspaper called Collins' homicide the 18th transgender murder identified in the United States this year, and the second this summer in Kansas City.

Local advocates are concerned about whether police are correctly identifying the victims, and whether these murders are being investigated as hate crimes.

“Most of them have been transgender women of color,” said Randall Jenson of the Kansas City Anti-Violence Project. “And even more specifically, most of them have been transgender black women.”

Jenson talked to Gina Kaufmann about transgender safety on KCUR’s Central Standard Monday. The most recent homicide was that of Tamara Dominguez, just last weekend. She was run over three times by an SUV in Kansas City’s Historic Northeast neighborhood.

RELATED: Activists Hold Community Memorial Service For Slain Kansas City Transgender Woman

“When folks first started to report, based off police reports, on who she was, they were using her name assigned as birth, they were using male pronouns,” Jenson says. “That even left folks who knew her thinking maybe two different people had been killed.”

Kansas City Police Department spokesman Tye Grant says officers have investigated these deaths like any other crimes, and allow the investigation to determine whether it needs a hate or bias crime designation. He added that the police can only go by legal documents to determine someone’s gender, or interviews with family.

But for some, like Natalia, a friend of Dominguez’s, family would be the last ones to understand.

“They don’t accept it. They’re really religious,” Natalia said.

A Bittersweet Experience

Natalia spoke to Central Standard using only her first name. She says it’s hard to find a community in Kansas City.

“There’s no respect for people. There’s no respect from straight people, and for transsexual or transgender, the Latino community is really bad,” Natalia said, “At some point I’m like, why should I want to be here in Kansas City?”

Kansas City has gotten attention this year as the site of a reality television show about the transgender experience, but Nila Foster said her experience here has been bittersweet.

“I say that Kansas City, it really isn’t a city for transgendered individuals only because it’s so close-minded. I feel cities on the coast are more open,” Foster said.

Years ago, Foster found acceptance in a small group of black, transgender women who mentored her.

“They taught me how to walk, how to do my makeup, how to talk, how to  deal with situations, even violent situations.” Foster said that in the early 2000s, she experienced being shot at and chased around the city.

Things have changed, Foster said, but that might be part of the problem.

“The visibility of transgender people has caused a bull's-eye on us, like we’re a target right now,” Foster said.

The recent homicides have prompted local LGBT groups to examine challenges faced by transgender people of color here. They’re planning memorial services and forums to help people heal, improve communication with the police and each other, and, hopefully, prevent future murders. 

Matthew Long-Middleton and Gina Kaufmann contributed to this report.

Sylvia Maria Gross is storytelling editor at KCUR 89.3. Reach her on Twitter @pubradiosly.