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Transgender Arkansan killed in Pennsylvania

by Ashton Eley | February 24, 2021 at 4:08 a.m.
Police lights are shown in this file photo.

A 24-year-old transgender woman from Springdale was killed Thursday in Pennsylvania , according to the Pennsylvania State Police.

Chyna Carrillo's death is at least the seventh killing of a transgender person in the U.S. this year, though there are likely others that were unreported or misreported, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

New Wilmington, Pa., officers arrived at a home along South New Castle Street to find Juan Carter Hernandez, 33, of Campbell, Ohio, beating Carrillo with a blunt instrument, according to a police report.

The officers ordered Hernandez to stop, but he continued his assault. Officers then opened fire, killing Hernandez, according to the report.

Police said Carrillo died from her injuries at a Youngstown hospital.

Carrillo, a certified nurse's aide, worked at The Grove at New Wilmington, a nursing home that employed many nurses and aides from other states after the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to news reports. Carrillo moved away from Arkansas to get a fresh start, according to her aunt, Mayra Carrillo.

"She loved working with older people. She had the patience of a saint," Mayra Carrillo said.

Chyna Carrillo was unapologetically herself and possessed a fun, happy energy, making those around her laugh, Mayra Carrillo said. She said her niece came from a huge, loving and supportive family.

"When my niece came out and was trying to transition, I was like, 'Yeah, we got this,'" she said. "She was my favorite niece. I wanted to protect her. I know, not personally, but I know how hard it is for people like her. I wanted to be there for her to protect her."

The Human Rights Campaign recorded 44 deaths of transgender and gender nonconforming people in 2020, the most in any year since the organization began tracking this type of violence in 2013.

Counted among them is Braylen Stone, a transgender 17-year-old from North Little Rock who went by Brayla. Sherwood police found Stone with a gunshot wound in her head on June 25 in a parked car on a walking path near Gap Creek Drive.

Stone is the only violent transgender fatality in Arkansas recorded by the Human Rights Campaign, press secretary Aryn Fields said. Gender identity-motivated hate-crime data has only been tracked since 2013, with 2019 being the most recent year of data available.

No hate crimes against transgender people have been reported in Arkansas, she said.

"That being said, few anti-trans murders are reflected in FBI hate crimes statistics, nationally and for Arkansas," Fields said. "While not every incident of fatal violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people tracked by [the Human Rights Campaign] is an anti-transgender homicide, the gulf between the FBI statistics and HRC's data is alarming and likely results in part from nonreporting, underreported, or inaccurate reporting by state and municipal law enforcement agencies to the FBI."

Tori Cooper, the director of the organization's Transgender Justice Initiative, said these crimes are most often committed by men who knew the victim. Cooper said part of the stigma and hatred of transgender people stems from toxic masculinity as well as a lack of compassion toward and understanding of transgender people.

"One way to think about toxic masculinity is where folks who identify as men think of their masculinity as their most prized possession -- 'You're only a man if you do dot dot dot or if you have dot dot dot,'" Cooper said. "So, some men feel they're entitled to do whatever is necessary to protect their reputation so that folks perhaps don't know they are involved with a trans person. ... It simply makes more sense in their minds to get rid of the evidence."

Both the Human Rights Campaign and state organizations are working on legislation to help address hate crimes and watching for legislation that, spokespeople said, could further harm marginalized communities.

"We, especially in the trans initiative, we have Arkansas as one of our priority states as far as reaching out a working with local trans leaders," Cooper said. "There's a lot of work to do, specifically, in Arkansas."

Arkansas is one of three states in the country without a hate-crime law, along with Wyoming and South Carolina. Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Sulphur Springs, introduced Senate Bill 3 in November. It would allow sentencing enhancement if someone committed a crime because of a victim's race, color, religion, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, homelessness, gender identity, sexual orientation, sex, disability or service in the U.S. armed forces.

Protections for gay and transgender people has been a sticking point and part of the reason similar legislation has failed to pass in the state Legislature in past sessions. Hendren said similar legislation being passed in other Republican-controlled states makes him hopeful attitudes are changing.

"This is a piece of legislation, because it is so controversial and has been defeated so many times before, I'm asking people to be patient. It's going to take some time to get a bill that has the ability to pass both houses," Hendren said.

Alternative legislation is also being worked on, Hendren said, but any other version will need to have the same protections for the same groups of people as SB3 to earn his support.

Other legislation being proposed in Arkansas could prove harmful to transgender people and others, Rumba Yambu, director of Intransitive, an Arkansas organization focused on anti-violence, immigration and community building in support of transgender people.

Yambu said pending state legislation that would give medical practitioners the right not to participate in health care services that violate their consciences, except in emergency scenarios, and a separate bill that would bar transgender individuals from participating in women's school sports in Arkansas discriminate against transgender people.

The proposal to ban transgender athletes from female sports in the state comes after a Jan. 20 executive order by President Joe Biden prohibiting discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation in school sports and elsewhere.

Proponents of the state proposal said this week that the law would protect female athletes. However, Yambu said there was no evidence of such a problem.

"Any time bills like this are introduced. ... crimes against trans folks go up," Yambu said. "Whenever we have legislators who propose these bills, they don't just go and submit them in silence. They post on their social media pages. They also talking about it publicly, and people remember we exist... It starts to create this narrative of 'Of course we need to protect our women and our girls,' even though there is no evidence of trans women or girls causing harm to any other cisgender woman or girl."

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