The founder of the Miss Trans America pageant is believed to be 2018′s first known victim of deadly violence against a member of the transgender community.
Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, 42, was found dead at her home in North Adams, Massachusetts, on Jan. 5, The Berkshire Eagle reported. According to medical examiners who were on the scene, Steele-Knudslien suffered a stab wound to her torso and blunt force trauma to her head. Her body was found wrapped in tarp and bedding and tied up in the basement.
Her husband, Mark Steele-Knudslien, has been charged with her murder. Police told MassLive that the 47-year-old said he’d “snapped” and done “something very bad” during a Jan. 5 interview, during which he also said he struck his wife with a hammer and stabbed her with a knife.
During a Monday arraignment, Mark Steele-Knudslien pleaded not guilty to the murder charges. He’s set for a pretrial hearing Feb. 7.
Christa Steele-Knudslien’s death sent shockwaves through New England’s LGBTQ community. In addition to founding the Miss Trans America pageant, she also helped launch the Miss Trans New England pageant and was one of the organizers of the first New England Trans Pride march in 2008.
Among those who shared condolences was Lambda Legal’s Transgender Rights Project Director Dru Levasseur, who called Steele-Knudslien a “powerful organizer and fierce activist.”
“I am so sorry to those who were very close to her. We must all support each other in this time of horror and sadness,” Levasseur wrote Monday. “She deserved better. She deserved life and happiness.”
Justin Adkins, a friend of Steele-Knudslien, echoed those sentiments. “Her thing was always that transgender women are beautiful and need a venue for trans women to be seen as beautiful,” Adkins told the New York Post.
She was memorialized on social media by a number of prominent LGBTQ advocacy groups, including GLAAD and the Human Rights Campaign.
Meanwhile, Adkins has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help cover funeral costs.