A Vermont community is “heartbroken” over the loss of a trans woman who was “always in bloom” and brought “joy and happiness to everybody”.
Fern Feather, 29, was found dead alongside a road in Morristown, Vermont, on Tuesday (12 April) morning, VTDigger reported. Autopsy results showed that Feather died of a stab wound to the chest and their death is being ruled a homicide, NBC5 reported.
Authorities have arrested Seth Brunell, 43, in connection to Feather’s murder. Police told WCAX that the two met several days ago, and officers said that they were seen together on Tuesday sometime after 10am on Duhamel Road near the intersection of Cadys Falls Road.
According to court documents, Brunell has claimed that Feather made a sexual advance on him before attacking him, and he stabbed her in self-defence. However, police have said there was no evidence of such an attack.
Brunell appeared in court on Wednesday (13 April) where he was charged with second-degree murder. He did not offer a plea.
The local community has expressed its deep grief and outrage at Fern Feather’s murder
Her friends said Feather recently came out as a trans woman and told NBC 5 that she had used ‘she/her’ pronouns and sometimes ‘they/them’ pronouns. Feather said on Facebook in March that it was “time to tell the world I’m a Hot Trans Woman in a currently male Hot Body Suit”.
Brittany Tetlow told NBC 5 that Feather was a kind, free spirit who loved animals – especially birds – and would help anyone who needed it.
“Every time I saw Fern, they had a wildflower in their hair,” Tetlow said. “But they didn’t need the accessory, they were a wildflower themself. Always in full bloom. Bringing joy and happiness to everybody around them.”
Aeryn Reynolds, who was previously a roommate with Feather, couldn’t think of a “single bad thing to say about Fern” and “couldn’t sleep” after learning the “heart-wrenching” news of Feather’s death.
“When we’d go out to anywhere if anyone was silently suffering, Fern would go over to them and make them feel important and make them feel valued,” Reynolds added.
People’s Pride Burlington described Feather as a person who was “universally adored by everyone who knew her” and was tragically “taken from us” by a “transphobic man who had recently wormed his way into her life and gained her trust”.
The organisation that Brunll was attempting to exploit an “age-old transmisogynistic spectre of sexual aggressiveness to wriggle out of taking responsibility for his brutal actions”.
“The evidence does not support his claims, but it doesn’t have to: His claims fit the narrative creeping across our state, our nation, and our world, and as such will be a suitable excuse in the eyes of many,” People’s Pride Burlington wrote.
“In a local and national political climate characterised by the sexual demonisation of the LGBT+ population, and especially of the transgender population, this justification will become increasingly common.”
Last year, Vermont passed legislation prohibiting the use of a victim’s gender identity or sexual orientation as a justification for the criminal actions of a defendant in court – commonly known as the LGBT+ ‘panic defence’.
People’s Pride Burlington also called out several local news outlets for “predictably deadnaming and misgendering her, as well as universally avoiding the phrase ‘Hate Crime’” in relation to her murder.
Vermont House speaker representative Jill Krowinski said in a statement to VTDigger that Feather was “tragically taken from this world too soon, like so many other transgender people who are targeted in bias driven attacks.”
“We absolutely need to continue to take steps to make Vermont a more equitable place and be clear that hate has no place in our state,” Krowinski said.
Governor Phil Scott recently issued a statement condemning the “disturbing hostility towards the transgender community” across the US. He did not name Feather directly in his comments.
“Unfortunately, recent events show we are not immune to this in Vermont, and we must commit to continuing our work to make Vermont a more inclusive and welcoming place,” Scott said. “Exploiting fear and targeting divisive rhetoric at people who are just trying to be who they are is hateful and can lead to violence.”
The Republican governor asked Vermonters to “do their part” to ensure that “everyone feels safe in our state”.
“To Vermonters in the LGBTQA+ community, I want you to know we stand with you and support you but know we have more work to do,” Scott added.
Pride Center of Vermont said it was also “heartbroken by the loss” of Feather, saying they “brought such joy to so many who were honoured to know them”.
The LGBT+ organisation planned to host a space for the community to mourn Feather in due time.
In the meantime, Pride Center of Vermont said anyone needing support can reach SafeSpace advocates on (802) 863-0003 or via the anonymous chatline https://www.pridecentervt.org/safespace/.
Fern Feather is at least the 11th trans, non-binary or gender non-conforming person violently killed this year. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has been tracking these killings since 2013 and has confirmed at least 10 people within the trans community have been killed this year.
Tragically, these deaths often go underreported or misreported so the true toll of the “epidemic of violence” against the trans community in the US could be higher.
The community has mourned across 2022: Amariey Lej, Duval Princess, Cypress Ramos, Naomie Skinner, Matthew Angelo Spampinato, Paloma Vazquez, Tatiana Labelle, Kathryn ‘Katie’ Newhouse, Kenyatta ‘Kesha’ Webster and Miia Love Parker.