Sumaya Dalmar, a 26-year-old transgender woman, was found dead on Sunday in Toronto’s east end. Described as a “bold, brave and brilliant young woman who loved her friends fiercely,” members of both Toronto’s LGBT and Somali communities are mourning her loss.
Though police say her death has been ruled not a homicide, posts saying Dalmar — who was also known as Sumaya Ysl — was a victim of murder spread quickly on social media. They asked why there had been no statement from police, why there was no media coverage and how the death of yet another trans woman of colour could be met with such silence.
In cases of “sudden death,” police do not typically release details of either the victim or the circumstances surrounding their death. In this case, however, police released a statement after requests for information.
On Tuesday afternoon, Toronto Police posted a statement to Facebook saying Dalmar was found unresponsive after a call from the Danforth Road and Main Street area. They said autopsy results were inconclusive and toxicology tests are pending.
“To protect the privacy of the victim, no further details on the cause of death will be released,” the statement said.
“At this time, we have no evidence to indicate the death is suspicious. If the investigation leads us to believe otherwise, we will provide an update.”
Toronto Police Services spokesperson Meaghan Gray told the National Post the statement was in direct response to messages on social media, as well as calls to staff.
“We certainly are sensitive to the relationship between the Toronto Police Service and the trans communities. We’ve worked very hard over the last little while to improve that relationship,” said Gray.
“Certainly our efforts today in putting out this information is part and parcel of that outreach.”
She confirmed the investigation is ongoing and anyone with information is encouraged to contact either 55 Division’s Criminal Investigations Branch or Crime Stoppers.
It is not without reason that some believe Dalmar could have been murdered, despite what police have said. At least seven trans women — nearly one per week — have been murdered in the U.S. since the year began, according to The Advocate. Most of them were women of colour.
A survey released in 2011 by the National Center for Transgender Equality and National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found high levels of violence reported by trans or otherwise non-gender conforming Americans. Of the 6,450 people surveyed, 61% said they’d been victims of physical assault and 64% said they’d been the victim of sexual assault. Forty-one per cent said they’d attempted suicide.
Keeping statistics on murder can be difficult as police services and media outlets often misgender victims or include their legal name, but not their chosen name. In the case of Penny Proud, a 21-year-old woman shot to death in New Orleans two weeks ago, initial police reports identified Proud as male. Local media then followed suit.
In Toronto, police records may only identify people based on what their government-issued identification says, though do provide training that encourages preferred gender to be included. Cases of misgendering are corrected on a case-by-case basis.
A memorial has been planned for Dalmar on March 3 at The 519 community centre.