Family of Murdered Transgender Woman Seeks Justice

Family of Murdered Transgender Woman Seeks Justice

The Mid-South family of a murdered transgender woman wants justice and acceptance for their loved one.
Memphis, TN - Tears well up in Claudia Blair's eyes when she thinks about her 20 year-old cousin, Rodney Whitaker, as a child.

"I used to change his diapers," she says.  "He was a good child.  How all this ended up...abandoned building, clothes everywhere, condoms...he didn't have to die like that.  He didn't."

Claudia and her 19 year-old daughter Porshia, say whoever killed Rodney, killed a young man with a heart of gold.  A young man, they say, whose family always suspected he was gay.

"Yeah, because we would do cheerleading moves together," says Porshia.  "And once when I went over there, Bring It On had just come out and he knew the moves better than the girls in the movie.  So I knew he would be different."

Porshia and her mom did not know until after Rodney was found shot to death behind a Southeast Memphis daycare on Tuesday, July 1, 2008, in a parking lot littered with used condoms, that he'd been turning tricks for money since he was 16.   They also didn't know he was a transgender.

Rodney's mug-shot, taken during a previous arrest for prostitution, shows a beautiful young African-American woman, with reddish streaks in her long blonde hair, arched brows, perfectly applied eyeshadow and lip liner and a gold necklace with tiny butterflies on it.   Rodney went by the name "Ebony" when he was dressed as a woman.

"When I was 16," says Porshia, "at that age the biggest thing on my mind was what am I gonna wear to school tomorrow, not where am I getting my next meal.  It wasn't who am I gonna sleep with or what am I gonna have to wear to sleep with this person.  That's just sad."

"Maybe if he had more moral support from his family," says Claudia, "and a place to live and clothes and all that, a lot of the choices he made he might not have made.  I would like to tell the person that did this crime, you will not get away with it.  Justice will be served."

Rodney's family isn't alone in demanding justice for his murder.  The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition, a group out of Nashville, paid a visit to Memphis on Tuesday to attend the Memphis City Council meeting.

The TTPC denounced the videotaped police beating of transgender woman Duanna Johnson.   Later that day, the group learned of Whitaker's murder.  His death, according to the TTPC, is at least the third transgender hate crime in Memphis to land on their radar.   The group is also fighting for justice for Tiffany Berry.  

Berry was a Memphis transgender woman who was murdered in February of 2006.   The TTPC says Berry's murder was never solved.

The president of the TTPC, Dr. Marisa Richmond, released the following statement on their website:  "We consider these two recent crimes (Duanna Johnson's beating and Rodney Whitaker's murder), combined with the unsolved murder of Tiffany Berry, to be unacceptable.  The lack of response by the Memphis Police Department has set a tone in the community that the lives of transgender people, especially African-American, are irrelevant."

Hate crime or not, Whitaker's family wants the person who killed Rodney to wind up behind bars.

"I mean, he was a good person," says Porshia.  "He had no choice but to do what he did.  And it wasn't right for that person to take his life like he did."

"He's a human being," Claudia says.  "He deserves justice just like anybody else.  He does."

Late Friday, July 4, 2008, Memphis Police said no one was in custody for Whitaker's murder.   Investigators have not released a possible motive in the killing.

Claudia thinks one of Rodney's clients got upset when they realized "Ebony" was really a man.  

"I'm thinking he ran across a man," she says, "who wanted female company.   And he thought he had a beautiful young lady.  And in the midst of the moment, he found out Rodney wasn't a woman and got mad and shot him."

Funeral services for Rodney Whitaker will be Sunday, July 6, 2008 from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. at M.J. Edwards Funeral Home at 1165 Airways Blvd.  His burial will be the next day, Monday, July 7, 2008 at noon.

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