A well-known local transgender woman who was a fixture in the ballroom community was murdered in her home this week in South Philadelphia.
The body of Stacey Blahnik, 31, was discovered shortly after 9:30 p.m. Oct. 11 by a man reported to be her partner in a second-story bedroom of her rowhome. Police were called to the house, 1805 Manton St., and pronounced her dead at 9:43 p.m.
Police spokesperson Sgt. Ray Evers said Blahnik, whose birth name is Michael Lee, was strangled with a pillowcase.
The Medical Examiner’s Office classified the death a homicide Wednesday morning, with the cause of death listed as ligature strangulation.
Evers said investigators have not yet determined a motive or suspects in the killing.
“The homicide squad is working on it, so hopefully they will be able to shed some light on this once they go through the evidence and the interviews,” Evers said.
Blahnik served as the Overall House Mother for House of Blahnik.
Local trans activist Jaci Adams said rumors about Blahnik’s death began swirling shortly after her body was found, but urged the community to be patient until more facts are uncovered.
“The girls need to be safe, but we don’t know the details yet,” Adams said.
Adams said Blahnik did not have any makeup on at the time of her death, which she said could be a telling sign.
“She was found without any makeup on, which to us implies that this could have been personal or somebody she was already comfortable with,” Adams suggested. “If I had someone over my house and I wasn’t made up, it would be someone who knew me and someone that I felt comfortable with.”
Robert Burns, Blahnik member and executive director of The COLOURS Organization, said Blahnik had been house mother for about a year and offered direction to the approximately 115 Blahnik members who stretch from Philadelphia to California.
“She was a key parental figure to our family,” Burns said. “She provided mentorship, leadership and was pretty much an emotional ear to many of our members across the country. She was a figurehead.”
Burns said Blahnik already had a “significant” impact, “not just to those in our house, but to those in the entire ballroom community and even those who are not a part of the ballroom house culture, with the extent of the relationships and the support she provided. She was a mother figure to a lot of young people, particularly for many of our transwomen of color here in Philadelphia.”
Adams noted that the situation should serve as a learning experience for local mainstream media, many of whom reported the murder as that of a man.
“As a trans advocate, I would encourage that when people do news reports on our lives that they need to realize that while our identity may not be their reality, our reality is our identity,” she said. “And it’s a shame that with the way the news media reported it, she died without dignity.”
A candelight vigil will be held for Blahnik from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at Love Park.
A viewing will be held at 10 a.m. Oct. 19 at the Mitchum-Wilson Funeral Home, 1412 S. 20th St., followed by a funeral service.