On her phone, she kept pictures of all the hairstyles she had done, a catalog of her accomplishments and a reminder of the future she had to look forward to. She dreamed she would be a hairdresser. She dreamed of completing her transition, of looking in the mirror and seeing the reflection she felt was her.
She hailed from Milwaukee, WI. She was 27 — troubled, yes, but determined to stand up for herself. She was outgoing and outspoken. She lived in hotels and stayed with friends, but lately, she had been looking for an apartment. For home.
Her name was Sasha Garden. The country will remember her as the 15th transgender homicide victim of 2018.
“She just wanted to be happy,” said Mulan Williams, prevention outreach coordinator with HIV/AIDS service organization Miracle of Love. “And she wasn’t as happy as she could have been prior to this happening to her. I just wish she could have had more time to fulfill her dreams.”
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has released little information on Garden’s death. Police were called to an apartment complex outside 1633 Holden Ave. at around 5 am July 19, according to a department statement. There they found Garden “lying on the roadway at the rear parking lot of the apartment complex with trauma observed on the body.”
Williams said a few girls saw Garden get into a car early that morning. There are some theories on what happened next, but no definitive leads. Garden was involved in sex work along the “The Stroll,” a stretch of road in Orlando where workers and clients regularly meet.
Police initially misgendered Garden, giving her male-assigned birth name to media outlets who in turn reported that a “man in a dress” had been found dead. They used male pronouns.
Maia Monet, a transgender woman in Orlando, immediately started researching Garden.
“As soon as I saw the headlines I thought she better not be a transgender woman,” said Monet. “I think they traded dignity for headlines and clicks,” she said of the local media coverage.
According to police, the Sheriff’s Office only released her legal name because they had not yet confirmed that Garden was transgender with her family.
But Williams said that officers came to her home asking her to identify Garden. She told them that Garden was a transgender woman and provided her correct name.
“Their first sentence was, ‘I heard a bunch of transvestites stay here,’ and of course, that didn’t sit well with me,” Williams said.
Williams corrected the officers and explained that she herself was a transgender woman and so was Garden. Police obtained Garden’s legal name from a neighbor who Garden called her “gay mother.”
Police asked if Williams saw anyone with blonde hair and two braids and asked to show Williams a picture.
“I’m thinking maybe they’re going to show me a picture from her phone or maybe her Facebook or something,” Williams said. “But it was a picture of her on the ground — eyes open wide, mouth open wide. That kind of messed me up. I wasn’t ready for that.”
Garden has been deeply mourned by her local community.
QLatinx, an organization formed in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting, called on the media and police to apologize for misgendering Garden.
“The news of the passing of our beloved sister from the community, Sasha, is one of absolute heartbreak and tragedy,” the organization wrote on Facebook. “We hold her spirit and those of her loved ones in our hearts.”
Garden’s death comes on the heels of a string of transgender homicides just 140 miles north in Jacksonville. In Jacksonville, three transgender women have been murdered this year alone. Another survived a shooting.
In a joint statement released by Equality Florida and GLAAD, the organizations call out the media and police in both cities for misgendering the victims, calling the behavior neglectful at best.
“We, as a society, should be well past misgendering transgender people,” said Gina Duncan, Equality Florida’s director of transgender equality. “There are national resources that address these issues.”