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String of Murders Has Transgender Community on Alert Nationwide

String of Murders Has Transgender Communities on Alert Nationwide 2:12

Seven transgender women of color have been murdered across the U.S. in just the first two months of 2017: three in Louisiana and one in South Dakota, Illinois, Ohio and Mississippi. This comes after the most violent year on record for the transgender community, totaling in 27 deaths in 2016.

But it wasn’t until 2014 that violence toward the trans community was even documented; a community in which 40 percent have attempted suicide in their lifetime, nearly nine times the rate in the U.S. population.

The transgender community is largely a victim of physical abuse. Nearly half of all respondents in a survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) reported being denied equal treatment, verbally harassed and/or physically attacked in the past year because of their gender identity.

This year in Louisiana, three transgender women have been murdered -- two shot and one stabbed to death. All three murders are currently under investigation by local law enforcement.

Chyna Gibson, or more commonly known in the trans community as Chyna Doll Dupree, was well-known in New Orleans. She was 31 years old. Her family doesn’t know how to make sense of her death.

“She's beautiful. I could tell you, she's just a beautiful person,” said Lolita Gibson, Chyna Gibson’s aunt. “She's loved by everybody. Anybody who came across her, they knew Chyna.”

From a young age, Gibson’s family recalls she was always dancing or singing, making sure that those around her knew of her passion for life. She performed as a dancer and singer in various dance clubs around the country.

Gibson was scheduled to complete her sex reassignment surgery in just a few months, according to her adopted mother, Tammie Crittindon-Lewis. “She was so excited,” Crittondon-Lewis added.

Approximately 60 percent of transgender respondents in the NCTE survey who were out to their immediate family reported that their family was supportive. That was the case for Chyna and for DeMajio Striker, a 23-year-old trans woman shot to death in Toledo, Ohio.

“I was my [child's] biggest fan,” said Shanda Striker, DeMajio’s mother. She firmly believes her daughter's death was a hate crime. The Toledo Police Department is currently investigating Striker’s death.

As for the two New Orleans murders, New Orleans Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison tells NBC News he doesn’t know if these murders were hate crimes or not.

“We always look at that, and we're exploring it to make sure that we look under every rock, explore every opportunity to find the truth, and to find who's responsible so we can hold them accountable,” Harrison said.

Chief Harrison has recently appointed an LGBTQ liaison to better work with and understand the LGBTQ community in New Orleans. He has also drafted a new policy to assist officers with communication and best practices when working with the LGBTQ community. The policy includes what questions to ask when it comes to identification and how to address questions in a sensitive way that won’t demean anyone.

But Maiyah Love Dupree, a transgender women living in New Orleans who knew both victims, is skeptical of the police department’s approach to these murders.

“It’s like everything is being swept under the rug,” Dupree said.

Dupree told NBC News she is scared to leave her own home for fear that she could be the next transgender woman murdered. “We don't fit into their ‘American Dream.’”

Chyna Gibson's family celebrated her life in true New Orleans fashion, with a second line jazz band and a horse drawn carriage. They will remember her the way she would’ve wanted to be remembered.

“She wanted to be a lady,” her mother said. “And a lady, she was.”

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