Murdered transgender woman one step closer to a final resting place

DIAMOND WILLIAMS is finally among friends.

Williams is the transgender woman I wrote about last week who was dismembered by a john in 2013.

For two years, her remains sat in the Medical Examiner's Office. And for two years, I called her grandmother hoping that she or someone in the family would claim her.

No one did. And when it became clear that no matter how many times I called, it was unlikely anyone would, I called on GALAEI, a queer Latino social-justice organization in North Philly.

Would they claim her? I asked.

They reacted so fast, I barely beat Naiymah Sanchez to the Medical Examiner's Office on University Avenue on Friday.

"I just think it's our moral responsibility," said Sanchez, coordinator of the TransHealth Information Project at GALAEI.

While we sat inside the medical examiner's building, Sanchez recalled talking with Williams during her outreach work a few weeks before she was killed. Sanchez gave her a hygiene kit, some condoms and a standing offer to help her get services to get off the streets and off drugs.

Police said Williams, 31, was killed in July 2013 by Charles Sargent, who used a hatchet and screwdriver to dismember her and then dumped her remains in a vacant lot in North Philadelphia. His trial is scheduled for next year.

After a column I wrote about a vigil held in Williams' memory, I had the first of many conversations with her grandmother, Ruth Woods. She loved a grandchild whom she insisted on calling Mark. She couldn't bring herself to love Diamond, the true identity that had struggled for years to come out.

Woods, a religious woman, was conflicted with unresolved feelings of grief, guilt and denial.

After a year passed, I thought she might have gotten to a place where she could at least claim her grandchild's remains. When she hesitated and I suggested that Williams had friends who would claim her if she didn't want to, Woods said no.

Two years later, when the remains still went unclaimed, I posed the question again. This time, she said yes.

Nearly a year to the date that Williams was cremated, I sat with Sanchez in a tiny room inside the medical examiner's building and watched her carefully wrap the black plastic box holding Williams' remains in a transgender-pride flag.

Williams hadn't legally changed her name, so the label reads: Mark William Woods. I was touched when that detail seemed to bother the forensic investigator who handed Sanchez the box. He suggested there might be a way to change it if someone petitions the court. Sanchez said she'd look into it.

For now, Williams' remains sit on a second-floor mantel at GALAEI, alongside other photos of transgender women who have died - among them Kiesha Jenkins, who was gunned down Oct. 6 in Hunting Park during a botched robbery.

Sanchez said they had briefly thought about keeping Diamond's ashes in the office, but they worried about potential trauma to other clients, and they wanted Williams to have a proper resting place.

Sanchez and co-worker Deja Alvarez are talking with a local funeral home about either buying a plot to bury Williams' remains or buying spaces inside a mausoleum. Sanchez said that option comes with three spaces, and although it is slightly more expensive, it would allow them to find a home for any other transgender people who might not have relatives or might have been rejected by them. To make a donation, please contact either Sanchez or Alvarez at 267-457-3912.

There's another reason why they want a more permanent home for Williams' ashes. Times and people change, Sanchez said. Awareness and acceptance of transgender people and issues are increasing.

Years from now, Diamond's family might have a change of heart, she said. If they do, they will have a place to visit her.

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