A transgender woman killed Sunday in North Philadelphia has been identified as Michelle Washington, also known as “Tamika,” a mentor and advocate in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community.
Washington, 40, of North Philadelphia, was shot multiple times Sunday morning near the 3400 block of North 11th Street. She was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital.
On Monday night, Philadelphia police arrested Troy Bailey, 28, of the 1100 block of West Venango Street in the city’s Franklinville section. Bailey was arraigned Tuesday on murder and other firearms-related charges.
Homicide Capt. Jason Smith said Bailey admitted to shooting Washington, but only after initially telling police he was an eyewitness and providing a “false description" to investigators. Smith said that although the investigation is ongoing, detectives are not investigating the shooting as a hate crime and don’t believe Washington’s gender identity to be the motivation for the killing.
Bailey, who police said has a criminal history that includes domestic violence and sexual assault, did not have an attorney listed as of Tuesday.
Leaders in Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community were stunned by the killing and called for an end to violence against transgender people, which disproportionately affects trans women of color. Amber Hikes, executive director of the city’s Office of LGBT Affairs, said in a statement that Washington was “a brilliant and outgoing member of Philadelphia’s transgender community, known for her advocacy and mentorship, and she will be profoundly missed.”
Raquel Evita Saraswati, chair of the Mayor’s Commission on LGBT Affairs, said that “our community is nothing without black trans women, and we will mourn the loss of Michelle ‘Tamika’ Washington today and in the years to come.” Saraswati offered the commission’s commitment to “#SayHerName,” a social movement aimed at raising awareness of anti-black violence.
Last week, Claire Legato, a 21-year-old black trans woman, died in Cleveland. Legato had been shot in April and died from her injuries weeks later.
The National Center for Transgender Equality released a survey of 28,000 transgender people in 2015, in which nearly one in 10 respondents said they were physically attacked in the last year because of being transgender. Transgender women of color were four times as likely as other transgender people to have been attacked at gunpoint.
At least five transgender people — all black trans women — have been killed nationwide in 2019, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an advocacy organization. Last year, 26 transgender people were killed across the country, though advocates say that number could be much higher. There is little nationwide accounting of violence against the LGBTQ community, and advocacy groups rely on media reports and other organizations to gather data.
In Philadelphia alone, at least six transgender women of color have been killed in the last six years. Last fall, Shantee Tucker, 30, a black trans woman, was fatally shot in the city’s Hunting Park section, just a mile and a half from where Washington was gunned down.
Sharron Cooks, a human rights advocate who had been friends with Washington, described her friend as a trailblazer but also as a caregiver who put family first, including her sister who had cerebral palsy. For Cooks, Washington was funny, fearless, and deeply intellectual.
“She had a good heart, and her life definitely didn’t deserve to end the way it did," Cooks said.
Tatyana Woodard, a former colleague of Washington’s for a Mazzoni Center project, said that Washington had been “an auntie to the community.”
“She was a nurturer,” said Woodard, who saw Washington as someone she could turn to for advice. “Always went out of her way to stop, and came and spoke to you when she saw you.”
It’s become custom for trans advocates in the city to hold vigils near the spot where trans women died. This time, said Woodard, who is trans, organizers are opting for an inside venue because the recent spate of attacks has raised concerns about safety.
“I’m scared that someone might follow me home from a rally, that someone might follow me home from work. I’m in fear,” Woodard said. “I also know that being silent won’t change anything. We have to continue to speak out for trans rights.”
The vigil will start at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Gloria Casarez Residence in North Philadelphia. Woodard said the gathering will be more like a community forum to talk over ways to support the community. Cooks is helping the family to plan a memorial as well.
“I think people lobby for trans people when something terrible happens and not on an everyday basis,” she said. “I think it’s important to start discussion.”
Cooks said she hopes the community can pursue solutions to reduce the impacts of gun violence on all black Philadelphians, but she also hopes that people can become more educated about the barriers that black trans women in the city face.
Washington would want her loved ones, even at a time like this, to celebrate her transition, Cooks said. Washington believed that once the spirit leaves the body, it travels to the “cradle of souls.”