Trans girlfriend of deceased North Philadelphia man receives harassment, institutional misgendering in wake of his death

Trans girlfriend of deceased North Philadelphia man receives harassment, institutional misgendering in wake of his death

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In the days leading up to her boyfriend’s alleged death by suicide, North Philadelphia trans woman Faith Palmer was denied a restraining order against him by the District Attorney’s Office and misgendered by police officers in a domestic violence report she filed. 

The Aug. 16 report, taken by Police Officer Tigue, details that around 7:30 that morning, “he was in an argument with his boyfriend, his boyfriend picked the [complainant] up and slammed them to the ground. [Complainant] made previous Domestic Violence Reports and was denied a [Protection From Abuse Order] by the DA’s Office.”

Palmer showed Tigue both state and federal identification that uses her correct name and gender, she said. While “Faith Palmer” and “female” were denoted by the officer when taking down her general information on the report, the written description of the incident misgenders Palmer, according to documents obtained by PGN. 

In June, the Philadelphia Police Department unveiled a new policy, Directive 4.15, that overhauled the guidelines for officers’ interactions with the trans and nonbinary communities — a mandate that is hailed as one of the most progressive in the country. “Personnel will address members of the public using pronouns, titles of respect, and name as expressed by the individual, regardless of what is listed on their government-issued identification,” it reads. 

Maurice “Reese” Willoughby, 20, of North Philadelphia, was found dead Aug. 18 in the residence he shared with his girlfriend Palmer and her cousin in the Frankford section of the city. Media response quickly linked his alleged suicide to a video in which Willoughby is seen being bullied by a group for his relationship with Palmer. 

Many have since blamed Palmer and their relationship for Willoughby’s death, including Willoughby’s family, Palmer said. She has received several threats, prompting her to file additional police reports about the harassment, Palmer added. 

Palmer said she wants people to know there is more to Willoughby’s story: years of systematic oppression and struggles with mental health and addiction — both for which he tried seeking care, with her support.

Willoughby had a doctor’s appointment to get help for experiencing addiction scheduled at North Philadelphia’s The Wedge Medical Center, P.C. for Aug. 19 — the day after he was found dead, according to documents Palmer shared with PGN. Palmer detailed Willoughby’s life as one fraught with sexual violence he experienced while in and out of the foster care system throughout his adolescence. The two were unable to obtain jobs despite actively applying and not having adult criminal records, Palmer said, leading her to engage in survival sex work.

Palmer said she hoped filing for a restraining order would pressure Willoughby to get help for his addiction. But instead, Palmer described a broken system where she was sent back and forth between police and victims services organizations, each requesting documentation from the other office to proceed with her case. In the end, she said, she was left to return without help to her home — an abusive environment she attempted to report.  

“I want to tell people to go get help, I do, but I went to get help and I still got the same result that I would've gotten if I wouldn't have [gone] to get help,” she said. “So I understand firsthand why people are scared to go get help, because you go to the places you're supposed to go to and you get turned around.”

Moving forward, Palmer told PGN she hopes to see stronger policies and procedures that will allow LGBTQ folks to be respected by victims' services and law enforcement officials, and require them to follow guidelines like Directive 4.15. 

“Imagine how many other stories can come to light. We're losing transgender people damn near every day,” Palmer said. “I was supposed to be one of them … but I made it out. But I'm being shaded because I made it out.”


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