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Meet The Trans-Led Group Helping To Find Unidentified Missing Non-Binary And Trans People
Many cases of missing transgender and non-binary people go unresolved because their bodies do not match the descriptions listed in their missing persons reports. The Trans Doe Task Force wants to help fix that.
Meet the Trans Doe Task Force, the transgender-led nonprofit organization on a mission to identify missing transgender, non-binary and gender-nonconforming individuals using the latest scientific advancements.
Founded by Anthony Redgrave and Lee Bingham Redgrave, the Trans Doe Task Force has worked side-by-side with various agencies across the country researching the unidentified bodies and missing persons that don't necessarily fit the traditional “Jane Doe” and “John Doe” placeholders.
“We founded the Trans Doe Task Force while we were volunteering with the DNA Doe project as some of their earliest forensic genetic genealogists,” Anthony Redgrave told Oxygen.com. “As we aided in the resolution of the first few forensic genetic genealogy cases, we found ourselves wondering if there were any Doe cases that were possibly transgender.”
Because he is intersex, he said, he wondered how a forensic anthropologist might estimate his sex should he become a Trans Doe.
“We started researching and looking for cold cases that might have been transgender, and we found dozens — and eventually hundreds,” he explained. “The contextual clues were there, but oftentimes were misrepresented by the person writing the report, or completely overlooked.”
He added that many of the Jane and John Does who have been identified were white, heterosexual and cisgender victims, leaving many minorities' cases — including LGBTQ+ and Black individuals — without resolution.
Both Redgraves, who identify as transgender, now work with a team of genetic genealogists to focus on individuals who have “slipped through the cracks,” including anyone who lived as a gender that does not match their missing person description.
Many of these people include murder victims, runaways and those who have died by suicide.
Transgender people are four times more likely to be victims of violent crime, including rape and assault, according to UCLA’s Williams Institute. Equality rights groups like the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) index the known transgender, non-binary and gender non-conforming victims who died from homicide, while noting that many such cases go unreported or the victims are misgendered in death. In 2021, HRC revealed there had been a record 57 known murders of transgender people — more than any year since the HRC began tracking these crimes in 2013 — and they've already found 14 known transgender murder victims in 2022.
Anthony Redgrave added that Black transgender women are seven times more likely to be murdered than the rest of the U.S. population.
“There are thousands of missing, murdered and unidentified people who are part of the queer community, and these cases go back decades and decades without resolution,” Anthony continued. “This is often because these cases have been underserved by investigating agencies for a variety of reasons, such as victim-blaming stemming from [the] biased belief that LGBTQ+ people are living a ‘high-risk lifestyle.’”
And many missing transgender persons cases are simply left unreported or misreported, especially among Black and Latiné transgender women, according to the HRC.
Redgrave explained that some of their work is stymied by the fact that white people are disproportionate users of the direct-to-consumer DNA tests on which genetic genealogists rely, which contributes to the sense in the scientific community that the cases of white Does might be more easily solved.
Thus, the Trans Doe Task Force runs the LGBTQ+ Accountability for Missing and Murdered Persons (LAMMP), a database overseen by missing persons specialist and board member Jessi Veltstra, Redgrave explained. The comparison database cross-matches missing members of the queer community and unidentified remains that could potentially be LGBTQ+.
Most databases used by investigators don’t allow for comparison across gender, according to Redgrave.
“This means that if a person is entered in missing as male, but they are found as an unidentified person and entered into the database as female, those two entries will not be automatically compared in the system,” said Redgrave. “And unless someone notices and checks manually, neither the missing person nor unidentified case will be resolved.”
The LAMMP also allows chosen relatives and loved ones to list someone as missing, whereas other agencies only allow immediate family members to report a missing person — and some family members may not list a parent or child by their actual gender identity.
“Also, missing persons can notify us that they are safe,” Redgrave added. “We allow this because of the frequency at which missing LGBTQ+ individuals are missing by choice in order to escape an unsupportive or abusive family.”
The Trans Doe Task Force has already assisted in several high-profile solved missing persons cases, including Jasper John Doe, whose skeletal remains were found in 1983. The body was identified in 2021 as William Lewis — a victim of prolific serial killer Larry Eyler.
They have also led the work on the cases of Pillar Point Doe, whose stabbed, beaten and strangled body was found in Half Moon Bay, California in 1983, and Julie Doe, whose murder has yet to be solved, to name a few.
The team says it’s essential that trans victims are memorialized with their lived gender with because of what is termed postmortem violence and proxy trauma, Anthony Redgrave told Oxygen.com. Postmortem violence is when a person experiences continued and intentional negligence, bias and transphobia even after death — including having incorrect pronouns applied to them and being deadnamed, which is when others use a transgender person’s former name. Proxy trauma, Redgrave explained, is something individuals face when seeing other members of their community being traumatized.
“We are often seen as invalid, less significant or less human than cisgender people — and often experience belligerent deadnaming and misgendering by our classmates, teachers, coworkers, bosses and even (and sometimes especially) our families,” said Redgrave. “To see this kind of harmful behavior continue even after a person has died can lead us to a sense of hopelessness. When we are gone, who will speak for us? Will anyone stand up and say our true names? What will be carved in our headstones?"
“The real fear and sadness that comes from seeing this happen to those who are no longer here to stand up for themselves is incredibly detrimental to those of us who are still living and have our own battles to fight,” he added.
The Trans Doe Task Force continues to advise and educate the public and media about missing LGBTQ+ people, and is called upon to help in a host of cold cases by medical examiners, forensic anthropologists and law enforcement agencies across the country. The organization hopes that anyone who comes across a case of an unidentified person who may have been LGBTQ+ submits their case to their website.
But there is one more thing the general public can do, Anthony Redgrave explained.
“The most important thing anyone can do is be respectful while we are still alive,” he said. “Call us by our names, by our actual identities. If you mess up, apologize, correct yourself and keep going. That actually goes a long way to keeping us alive, so we don’t have to be worried about misremembered or unidentified.”
To learn more about the Trans Doe Task Force, visit them on their website, Facebook, and Twitter. They also welcome donations to help them continue their work, including providing for scientific needs and assisting the family members of those missing.