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(MILWAUKEE) — Cashay Henderson, a Black transgender woman fatally shot in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is remembered by her family as “a jokester,” “independent,” “unapologetic,” and someone who “walks to the beat of her own drum.”
And though she’s remembered as a strong, bright presence in the lives of many, her family told ABC News that the discrimination Henderson felt she and other transgender people faced took a toll on Henderson.
“She’s like, ‘I don’t wish this life on anyone,'” said Veronica Beck, her cousin, recalling a conversation they had about the LGBTQ community.
“I knew things weren’t easy. But that wasn’t the first time that I just knew that, man, she was really struggling. It was a shocking comment, because, you know, she’s always so strong, confident and smiling,” Beck said.
Henderson, 31, was found dead on Sunday when the Milwaukee Fire Department responded to a fire at the building. Her death is being investigated as a homicide, officials say, after she was found with a fatal gunshot injury.
She is at least the fourth known transgender woman in Milwaukee to be killed in the past year. Brazil Johnson was killed in June 2022, Toi Davis was killed in July 2022 and Regina Allen was killed in August 2022. These killings have not yet been deemed hate crimes by officials.
Still, transgender people are over four times more likely than cisgender people to be victims of violent crime nationwide, according to a study by the Williams Institute at UCLA School of Law.
Beck said that it seemed like every week, Henderson would post on social media about transgender and queer friends who had lost their lives.
“She even said that she was happy she didn’t have [Rest in Peace] in front of her name, like a week or two” before her death, said Beck.
Diverse & Resilient, a local LGBTQ advocacy group Henderson was involved with, said they’re in mourning.
“While we are filled with grief, we are also filled with anger,” the group said in a statement posted on Facebook. The group hosted a vigil Wednesday in honor of Henderson’s memory.
The group criticized conservative legislators for recent inflammatory rhetoric against transgender people and the LGBTQ community.
“The continued attacks by right-wing elected officials to remove safety and rights for trans people are causing an increase in vitriol and hatred toward people of Trans experience. We call for an immediate halt to the hateful rhetoric and the dangerous bills that are written as a result of transphobia and lies,” the statement read.
Roughly 350 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced or advanced nationwide this year, according to the ACLU.
Henderson’s hometown of Chicago has also long been plagued by violence against transgender people, activists have told ABC News.
“I remember her saying all the issues she would have,” Beck said. “She was a teenager, I remember her saying about a friend getting beat up or something, or they would walk around and people would yell out at them and harass them as they’re walking around, because they were dressed like women.”
Beck said that when Henderson began openly identifying as a woman when she was a young teen in Chicago, her family accepted her for who she was.
Henderson, known for “doing her own thing” and not worrying about what others had to think of her, became a well-known figure in the LGBTQ community in Milwaukee, where she lived and Chicago, where she was born and raised. The family say they have received support from several local LGBTQ organizations that Henderson was a part of.
They say Henderson prioritized fostering a supportive community, and found that in her family and in the organizations she was active in.
“I’m proud of her. I’m proud that she made an impact on our community,” said Levette Whitlock, Henderson’s cousin. “I’m proud people are standing up for her. I love that her community is coming and helping us.”
Now, her family is demanding justice as they wait for charges to be filed in Milwaukee police’s investigation into her death. A person of interest, a 33-year-old man from Neenah, Wisconsin, was recently arrested in connection to this homicide, police said. The person of interest has not yet been charged.
Police have not released any information about a motive or whether she was targeted because she was transgender.
“As adults … we live our lives, we just get so tangled up, and we didn’t really get a chance to really, like, sit down and be with each other and hug each other, and I’ll never get to do that,” Whitlock said.
In honor of Henderson’s memory, her family urges others to embrace who they are fully and unapologetically.
“Love yourself and surround yourself with people who support you,” said Beck.
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