It's been a deadly start to the year. Seven transgender women have been murdered across the country, 4 just in the past week. It’s being called an epidemic.
Friday night the LGBTQ+ community is coming together in Ybor City and calling for an end to the violence.
They say their lives and rights are under fire. Supporters insist everyone deserves to live, no matter their gender identity, and say these senseless killings have to stop.
The group formed a “wall of love,” a line of activists, standing up against hate, violence and the challenges facing the community.
“Keke Collier. Rest in power. Rest in Peace.”
Organizers read the names the seven transgender women who have been shot or stabbed to death this year from Mississippi, South Dakota, Ohio, Illinois, and the most recent 3 murder victims from Louisiana.
Supporters are outraged that not all of the murders are being investigated as hate crimes, because of their gender identity.
“I want the community to realize there's so much more to the transgender community than body parts. There’s so much more to us than bathrooms. We’re fighting for our lives here,” says Aaron Munoz, President of Out and Loud Florida.
Munoz was born female, but identifies as a man and says more tolerance and understanding is what's needed in all communities.
“When you're not transgender, you don't realize just how much of our world is unbalanced because of gender. You don't realize how much being transgender can put you in danger just by being who you are. It's time to come together. It’s time to start talking about it, and it's time to stop killing are transgender sisters,” Munoz says.
The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs says 23 transgender victims were murdered in 2016, the highest number ever.
With 7 murders in 2017, we’re on track for another record that the LGBTQ community doesn't want to see be set.
“The biggest issues right now our community is facing is a lack of protections against discrimination, and against hate crimes, and against hate speech,” says Munoz.
Supporters confronted opposition along 7th Avenue with a wall of love.
“To combat supposed preachers who come out and spread hate speech. There’s spreading around beliefs, then there's taking it to a level of aggression that's attacking people and putting them in a position they feel they aren't safe. We're not going to stand for that in Ybor City,” Munoz says.
The group says it's working with the mayor and council members to strengthen the city ordinance to better protect against hate speech.