The police chiefs of Montgomery County and the city of Rockville and the director of Rockville’s Office of Human Rights joined more than 60 members of the transgender community and their supporters at a vigil on Friday to honor the life of trans woman Keyonna Blakeney.
Blakeney, 22, was found dead on April 16 in her room at Rockville’s Red Roof Inn. Police have listed the death as a homicide and said they are working “day and night” to solve the case.
Trans activists point out that her murder was the ninth murder of a trans or gender non-conforming person in the U.S. so far in 2016, following the murders of at least 22 trans or gender non-conforming people in 2015.
“We are gathered here to remember one of our family members,” said trans rights advocate Ruby Corado, who founded D.C.’s LGBT community center Casa Ruby.
“It is very obvious that people are scared,” said Corado in referring to what she called an epidemic of trans related murders across the country and in the D.C. metropolitan area in recent years.
“So number one, we are here to show our own transgender community that your lives have value,” she told the gathering. “We are here to show you that you are precious. We are here to remind yourselves and ourselves that our lives are not in vain.”
Among those participating in the vigil, which was held outside the Montgomery County Council building in downtown Rockville, were Blakeney’s father, Kenny Linton, and her sister, Jasmine Blakeney.
“She just turned 22,” Linton told the gathering. “She was still my baby. And I want to become an advocate with all of you,” he said, to help in the fight for the rights of all people like his daughter.
“We loved her,” Jasmine Blakeney said. “You all would have loved her.”
The vigil was organized by a coalition of trans advocacy organizations, including Casa Ruby, the Trans Women of Color Collective, the Trans United Fund and the Baltimore Transgender Alliance.
At the request Corado and Casa Ruby Chief Operating Officer Lourdes Ashley Hunter, participants of the vigil held hands and formed a large circle. Among those joining the circle and holding hands with other participants were Rockville Police Chief Terry Treschuk, First District Commander David Anderson and First District Lt. Lorraine Donnell.
“I just think it’s important that everybody is embraced in our community,” Treschuk told the Washington Blade after the vigil. “We just want to make sure everybody understands that,” he said. “We need to show our support to the community.”
Before the vigil began Montgomery County Police Chief J. Thomas Manger greeted the vigil’s organizers and several of its participants, saying his detectives were working hard to identify the person or persons responsible for Blakeney’s murder.
“We are absolutely working around the clock on this,” he told the Blade. “We have not made an arrest. We are following a number of leads but at this point we still are hoping that we get information from the community. We are asking the community to help us in this investigation.”
Also holding hands in the circle of participants and later speaking at the vigil was James Stowe, director of the Montgomery County Office of Human Rights.
“This office supports the transgender and LGBT community,” he told the gathering. “I can’t leave this circle without saying this, ‘You will always have my loyalty.’”
More than a dozen people took turns walking into the center of the circle to offer condolences to Keyonna Blakeney’s family and friends to express support for the trans community.
As the vigil neared its conclusion Hunter led a chant that took on the air of a rally, with participants repeating her call for action.
“We must love each other and support each other,” she shouted. “It is our duty to fight for our freedom…There is nothing to lose but our chains…It is our duty to win.”
Hunter told the Blade after the vigil that organizers were especially pleased that the police officials and Keyonna Blakeney’s family members participated in the event.
“I did not expect the police chiefs to come,” she said. “I’m excited that they were here to show their support and also to reassure the community that they are doing everything they can to bring resolution to this case and peace to the family.”