Kelly Stough, a 36-year-old transgender woman from Detroit, was murdered on Friday in the city’s Palmer Park neighborhood. On Monday, the Wayne County prosecutor’s office charged Albert Weathers, a 46-year-old preacher, in her murder.
“After a police investigation, prosecutors arraigned Weathers on charges of open murder and use of a firearm in commission of a felony,” said a press release shared with NBC News by the Wayne County prosecutor’s office. Weathers’ is due back in court in late December. His bond has been set at $1 million.
Prosecutors said they will present evidence in court that Stough’s gender identity was a motivating factor in her murder. According to LGBTQ news site INTO, Weathers called police to report a robbery and claimed he had shot someone in self-defense, though NBC News has not independent confirmed that this call was made.
Friends and family remembered Kelly as a loving, big-spirited and courageous woman who was well known in the Detroit’s ballroom scene.
“I want people to know that because she was transgender doesn't mean that she was not loved, that she was not cared for."
“I want people to know that because she was transgender doesn't mean that she was not loved, that she was not cared for,” Jessica Chantae Stough, Kelly’s mother, said in an interview with NBC News. “She has a family who cared about her, who loved her, and I want them to know that transgender ladies — expressly those of color — they're just not throwaways; people care about them.”
“She was educated, she was God-filled, she loved church, she loved others,” Stough continued. “As a human being in the United States of America, you have the right to be who you want to be, and you shouldn’t be shamed or bullied or persecuted for the choice you make.” The victim’s cousin, Nicole R. Mapson-Cone, started a GoFundMe page to help the family pay for Kelly’s funeral costs.
Eliel Cruz, a spokesperson for LGBTQ nonprofit Anti-Violence Project, called violence against trans women “a national epidemic,” and noted Kelly Stough “spoke out on the violence against trans women just a few years ago only to become victim of violence.”
“We mourn the loss of her life at the Anti-Violence Project and will work to honor her by uplifting the whole of her life as a vibrant member of the Detroit community and ballroom scene, and not erase her as a number or statistic,” Cruz said.
Indeed, Stough was quoted in 2015 by The Guardian following the murder of a 20-year-old black transgender woman. The article, which quoted Stough using her stage name, Keanna Mattel, focused on trans residents not feeling protected by Detroit’s police: “The police are unaware with our struggle so they have no sympathy for us,” Stough told news site. “Nobody ever asks, what happened to that person to get here?”
Stough’s murder case has been assigned to Special Prosecutor Jaimie Powell Horowitz, who works for the Fair Michigan Justice Project (FMJP), a pro bono collaboration between Fair Michigan, an LGBTQ advocacy group, and the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.
Dana Nessel, president of Fair Michigan and the state’s attorney general-elect, said FMJP was founded because she and other LGBTQ advocates noticed “the exponential rise in hate crimes, really against all minority communities, but especially against the LGBT community.”
Cold cases were going unsolved and “many of them, quite frankly, were not being investigated very well. They were not being solved, not being charged, and certainly there were no convictions,” Nessel said.
Since the founding of the Fair Michigan Justice Project in 2016, Nessel noted that the group has a “100 percent conviction rate” and thinks that the $1 million bail set for the suspect in Stough’s murder is a sign of how seriously Michigan prosecutors now take hate crimes against the LGBTQ community.
After she is sworn in as attorney general, Nessel promised to use her office to push for an update to Michigan’s Ethnic Intimidation statute, the name of the state’s hate crimes law, to more clearly include LGBTQ and gender-nonconforming people.
So far in 2018 at least 25 trans people have been murdered in the U.S., the vast majority of whom are young women of color, according to the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy organization.
Hate crimes against LGBTQ people in the U.S. continued to rise in 2017, jumping 3 percent from the year prior, according to hate crimes data released by the FBI last month. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people make up more than 16 percent of all hate crime victims, according to the FBI’s report, despite comprising an estimated 4.5 percent of the general population.