The Virginia Anti-Violence Project, a statewide LGBT advocacy group, announced on Monday that a 30-year-old Richmond resident shot to death on a street early Sunday morning was a transgender woman of color.
Richmond police said the victim, identified by friends and VAVP as Noony Norwood, was found unconscious and suffering from gunshot wounds on the 2700 block of Hull Street in South Richmond about 1:14 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 6. Police said she was pronounced dead the next day at a local hospital.
The New York City-based National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs said Norwood’s murder was the 23rd reported killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in the U.S. that the organization has responded to in 2016.
LGBT activists expressed concern when Richmond police issued a news release on Sunday describing Norwood as a man dressed in women’s clothes and used a male first name to identify her. The press release prompted news media outlets, including the Richmond Times Dispatch, to also identify Norwood using the male first name.
Gene Lepley, communications director for the Richmond Police Department, told the Washington Blade on Monday that Norwood’s mother and family members told detectives Norwood identified as a male and they wanted police to refer to Norwood as a male.
“We’ve always had a philosophy here at our Major Crimes Unit that we work for the victim’s family,” Lepley said. “We meet with them so that is our focus. And with that said, the family would like him to be identified as a male.”
Stacie Vecchietti, executive director of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on the assertion by police that family members said Norwood should be identified as a man.
But in its statement released on Nov. 7, VAVP says people who knew Norwood knew her as an out transgender woman.
“VAVP is deeply saddened to hear of another homicide of someone who identifies within the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer communities,” the VAVP statement says.
“VAVP hopes that throughout the investigative process, the media, police, and the public at-large respect Noony’s identity and maintain a level of decorum and understanding when interacting with her family and other individuals who identify within transgender and non-conforming communities,” the statement says.
Among those who have confirmed that Norwood identified as a trans woman is Zakia McKensey, a longtime friend of Norwood’s and the founder and executive director of Nationz Foundation, an LGBT supportive social services group in Richmond.
“Noony’s energy always brightened the room,” McKensey said in the statement released by VAVP. “She cared about her community and always lifted up and supported her friends and family.”
McKensey told the Blade that Norwood lived her life exclusively as a woman for at least the past four years and that her mother and family members were aware of this. According to McKensey, Norwood lived with her mother in recent years.
Others who knew Norwood pointed to her personal Facebook page in which she clearly identifies as a woman and which includes photos of her as a woman.
Richmond Police on Monday released a photo of a person of interest in the case who they say was present near the site of the shooting and may have information to help investigators identify a suspect in the case.
A police statement calls on the public to help police identify the person in the photo, which was obtained from a video surveillance camera. It describes the person of interest as a black male between 30 and 40 years old and weighing about 290 pounds.
“Anyone with information about the shooting is asked to call Major Crimes Detective Anthony Coates at 804-646-0729 or contact Crime Stoppers at 780-1000 or at www.7801000.com.
Shelby Chestnut, an official with the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs in New York, said questions surrounding the gender identity of transgender people who are victims of crime often surface with police and the news media.
“It’s important to realize that for many transgender people their closest family my not, in fact, be their biological family but may be their chosen family,” Chestnut said. “And to some extent police have an obligation to really think about the complexities of that.”
Among other things, Chestnut said, police investigating a case like the Norwood murder should carefully look into whether biological family members are providing them with the most accurate information about the gender identity of a crime victim.
“The reality is no one should be misgendered,” she said.
Lepley, the Richmond police spokesperson, said questions surrounding how to best identify Norwood’s gender were being discussed by top police officials. He said Capt. Daniel Minton, the department’s liaison to the LGBT community, was part of this discussion.
“We just hope that the strong ties that we have with the community here will help us move forward as we explore maybe other options for addressing this,” he said.