The transformation of Islan Nettles over the last year was something her friends and relatives discussed with barely concealed awe.
After years of often being hungry and on the verge of homelessness, Ms. Nettles, 21, had recently moved into her own apartment, found a job at an H & M clothing store and was designing her own fashion line.
Most important, she had begun to live publicly as transgender. Seemingly overnight, friends and relatives said, she had metamorphosed from a shy and insecure youth into a radiantly confident young woman.
And then she was killed.
Just after midnight on Aug. 17, a young man knocked her to the ground after learning she was transgender and struck her with his fists until she was unconscious and battered beyond recognition, according to accounts from the police and friends. She lingered in a coma for less than a week before being taken off life support.
The beating occurred on Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem, near her childhood home and across the street from the station house of Police Service Area 6, which patrols public housing projects in the area.
Ms. Nettles’s death has incensed New York’s transgender community. Many have experienced violence themselves and have spent years overcoming past abuse, depression and thoughts of suicide. And though the leaps toward equality made by gay men and lesbians in recent years seem to have left transgender people behind, they have become more visible in politics, entertainment and sports.
Even in the city’s rougher neighborhoods, there is a growing sense of tolerance, even acceptance.
“The death of Islan Nettles has lit a spark with many in the trans community,” said Kiara St. James, 39, a transgender woman who lives in Brooklyn and works for an organization called TransJustice. “Although violence toward trans women is far too common and many of us often have varying weapons we carry on our persons to protect ourselves, many of us still do our best to live productive lives and not stay shut in our apartments.”
“Rather than make us go into hiding,” she added, “we are more determined than ever to stand up and be visible.”
The night she was killed, Ms. Nettles was walking with friends when they were set upon by a group of men who taunted them with homophobic slurs, the police said. The police later arrested Paris Wilson, 20, but have not said what prompted the attack.
Daequan Andino, a friend and mentor to Ms. Nettles, who has spoken to friends who were present during the attack, said she and Mr. Wilson may have met at a party a few hours earlier and had perhaps flirted and danced.
Some have faulted the authorities for failing to quickly charge Mr. Wilson with murder. He has so far been charged only with misdemeanor assault, though a grand jury could add more serious charges before his next scheduled court date on Oct. 4, prosecutors said.
Mr. Wilson remains free on $2,000 bail. Efforts to reach him were unsuccessful.
As of late August, according to the police, there had been 75 bias crimes against gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender people, compared with 36 during the same period in 2012. The Police Department said it did not keep statistics on crimes against transgender people specifically. But experts say they tend to be victims at rates disproportionate to their numbers; a 2011 survey of more than 6,000 transgender people across the country found that 61 percent had been victims of physical assault.
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