The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Was the victim in brutal Fresno killing a transgender woman? ‘We may never know.’

Mourners placed candles and flowers at the site where Kenton Craig Haggard was killed Thursday. (Courtesy of Karen Adell Scot)

In the early-morning hours of Thursday, a person in a tan SUV beckoned Kenton Craig Haggard over to the vehicle. Wearing a knee-length dress and a white cardigan, Haggard crossed the street.

Leaning toward a passenger-side window, Haggard’s shoulder-length hair grazed the neckline of the dress.

Minutes later, the person in the vehicle struck out with a knife, stabbing Haggard in the neck.

Haggard stumbled, bleeding in the street and later dying at a hospital in the Central California city of Fresno.

LGBT activists say Haggard’s brutal killing was the 11th so far this year of a transgender woman — and the second in just three days.

But as far as the Fresno Police Department is concerned, the 66-year-old victim is male — not female.

The case has highlighted the challenges of investigating violent crimes against transgender people, who, in the early stages of transitioning, might keep their identities secret from even the closest people in their lives.

They live in fear of being themselves, advocates say. And when they are victimized, law enforcement is often slow to acknowledge their true identities, leaving potential avenues of investigation untouched and also making it more difficult to track violence against transgender people.

“We have a tremendous problem of under-reporting of hate crimes against trans people — and all hate crimes,” said David Stacy, government affairs director for the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT advocacy group.

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The Fresno Police Department said it is investigating all leads to determine who committed the horrific crime, but there is “no evidence” that the victim was transgender or that Haggard was killed for that reason.

“We have no information that this victim identified as transgender,” Lt. Joe Gomez, a spokesman for the Fresno Police Department, told The Washington Post. “And in fact, the information that we do have from people he lived with is that he did not.”

“It’s not pertinent in the crime,” Gomez added.

Furthermore, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer referred to the victim repeatedly as “Mr. Haggard” in a press conference Saturday — a decision that has infuriated activists rallying to bring attention to the killing.

“She was out ‘test-driving’ her female attire in the early morning, where she could be herself and not be bothered; I am convinced of that,” said Karen Adell Scot, founder of TransCare, which provides aid to people transitioning in the Fresno area. “She was newly transitioning.”

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The last time Jeff Haggard saw his cousin, it was about a year and a half ago, in a brief, chance meeting. He had no idea that his cousin might have been transitioning.

“He seemed like the Kenton I’ve always known since I was a kid,” Jeff Haggard said.

His cousin was always “kind of a loner,” who never married and had no children, Jeff Haggard said, noting that when he first read about his cousin’s killing, it was in the local news.

Gerald Haggard, Kenton Haggard’s brother, confirmed to The Post that his only sibling had been killed.

Kenton Haggard worked as a security guard for years until he retired recently — no longer able to keep up with the physical demands of the job, Gerald Haggard told The Post.

A few months ago, neighbors at the apartment complex where Kenton Haggard lived called his brother, who lives about an hour away, to report that Kenton Haggard was “cross-dressing and walking down the street,” Gerald Haggard said. “These incidents were all in the day.”

“I knew that he was cross-dressing,” Gerald Haggard told The Post. “We never had a conversation about transgender or changing.”

In fact, they spoke last week, hours before Kenton Haggard was killed. But Gerald Haggard said the conversation centered on daily life and the subject of transitioning never came up.

“I was concerned for my brother, but for his whole situation as far as his financial health, etc.,” he said. “The least of my concerns had to do with the new cross-dressing. The new cross-dressing was not high on my list of worries or concerns.”

He added: “If he wanted to voluntarily talk about it, then that would have been fine. If he didn’t want to talk about it, then it was his freedom to do what he wanted.”

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The complexities of this case have also divided LGBT advocates, who express varying degrees of wariness about assuming a person’s gender identity — one way or another.

According to LGBT advocate Chris Jarvis, some in the trans community have suggested that if a man is dressed as a woman “and it’s not Halloween,” they should be assumed to be trans. “That’s not necessarily true,” said Jarvis, founder of Gay Central Valley, which operates the Fresno and Merced LGBT community centers. “It could be that this person was a cross-dresser and not trans. It’s difficult to say that.”

“Without K.c. here to tell us, we may never know.”

Typically, LGBT activists prefer to identify someone based on the person’s preferred gender pronoun. But Haggard’s case has raised the complex question of what happens when a person is killed before that preference is clear to the people around them.

According to Fresno Police, statements from relatives and roommates gave no indication that Haggard identified as a woman. That isn’t uncommon for people newly transitioning, activists say.

“If someone wants to come out as transgender, nine out of 10 times they lose their family,” said Scot, the TransCare founder. “Many will lose their jobs. Many will be shunned, ostracized, hated.

“We’re afraid. It’s terrifying. We know who we are. The gender dysphoria drives us forwards. It’s either transition or die.”

Despite the statements from family and friends, Haggard’s attire that night — a dress, jewelry and a cardigan — is a clear sign that Haggard identified as a woman, Scot said.

According to activists, there is also evidence online that Kenton Craig Haggard recently began using the name K.c. Haggard on Facebook. In one post on what appears to be Haggard’s Facebook page, Haggard reviewed a local bar four months ago using that name:

“Hey calling TG girls amber says we can hangout there. C U there K.c. Haggard,” the message read.

“‘TG girls’ is transgender girls, absolutely,” Scot said. She added that somebody who works at the Fresno LGBT Community Center recalled seeing Haggard at group meetings for trans people in recent months.

Police have said that based on the part of town where the killing occurred, along with the victim’s dress, they believe Haggard might have been involved in prostitution, according to the Fresno Bee.

That suggestion has irked Scot, who said there is precious little evidence for police to make those assumptions either.

“There’s an assumption, with no evidence, that she was a sex worker,” Scot said. “This is what we face as transgender people all the time. We face a bias against us by law enforcement, but we are assumed not to be transgender and yet we are assumed as sex workers.

“Why would they assume one and not look at the evidence for another.”

Police have said that they are looking for a suspect who they believe is a Hispanic male in his late 30s who also hired a prostitute in the hours after the killing. Dyer, the Fresno police chief, said the FBI is assisting in the investigation.


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