Transgender rights advocates are seeking answers about the death of a Black transgender woman found dead in a hotel room earlier this month in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Jaida Peterson, 29, was discovered unresponsive in a hotel room after officers responded to a welfare check at the 3100 block of Queen City Drive — which appears to be the site of a Quality Inn and Suites — on Sunday, April 4, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department said in a statement to Gay City News. While authorities are not sure whether the case is a hate crime, they have declared her death a homicide.
“Detectives have yet to determine a motive but are working non-stop to identify and apprehend the person responsible,” Rob Tufano, a spokesperson for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, said in an email to Gay City News.
As the investigation continues, advocates are frustrated with the response from authorities.
Ash Williams, a transfeminine non-binary community organizer at Charlotte Uprising, a social justice advocacy group, and a member of the House of Kanautica, told Gay City News that misgendering and deadnaming from the police and local media keeps these crimes in the dark.
“We want these names to be amplified and we want our girls’ names on a national list, and they’re often not,” Williams said in a phone call from North Carolina. “The police showed us what they think of Jaida when they deadnamed her or didn’t say anything about her being trans.”
Additionally, Williams noted that families of trans people require ongoing support and are often in dire financial stress. Williams recalled fundraising for a refrigerator and headstone for the family of Chanel Scurlock, a Black trans woman fatally shot in the state in 2019.
“The kind of support that we are asking for in death could have saved these women’s lives,” Williams said. “It’s the difference between life and death for Black trans women where I live.”
Williams has been in contact with Peterson’s sister, Alexandra, who is “grateful” for the support. Meanwhile, Williams said the victim’s housemates are concerned about the circumstances surrounding her death — and they believe she was murdered.
“They support each other as much as they can,” Williams said. “I knew that Jaida was a part of a group of girls that tried to keep each other house the best way they could.”
Advocates in the state say they are still fighting the many harmful effects of HB2, a now-repealed law that made it illegal for transgender people to use a bathroom that aligns with their gender identity. Widespread transphobic rhetoric is another challenge facing local organizers when responding to the rampant violence.
“We’ve been castigated on the backs of HB2,” Williams said. “What are they doing with the money that they’re raising for the bail bonds? The girls are just scammers.”
Peterson’s case contributes to the rising death toll of transgender Americans during a year when more than a dozen known transgender people have been killed violently this year.
“We’re asking people in the community to continue showing up for the girls so that we don’t have to deal with so many deaths,” he said.
Dee Dee Watters, an LGBTQ advocate in Texas, is holding a vigil in honor of the victim on April 14. As a longtime community leader, Watters said it is time to talk with legislators about reforming hate crime laws.
“The sad part is every time that one of these murders take place, they wind up not deeming it as a hate crime before they see anything,” Watters said. “Now that we have a president like Biden in an office, we need to come to the powers that be and see about making these types of changes and having a serious conversation.”
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