Mother of American missing in Bahamas shielded daughter’s trans identity

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The mother of an American woman who went missing in the Bahamas last month while on a monthlong yoga retreat revealed that her daughter is transgender, a detail she said she had withheld out of fear it might negatively affect the search.

Since Taylor Casey was last seen alive on June 19, her mother and close friends have been working around the clock to find her.

The group has created several social media accounts, started a GoFundMe campaign for legal representation and crafted lengthy news releases related to Casey’s disappearance, but a release Monday was the first time they have disclosed Casey’s gender identity. 

“The focus was going to be taken off of finding my child, my child being missing and that they were going to put the focus on ‘oh, Taylor’s transgender,’ which should not be the focus at all,” said Casey’s mother, Colette Seymore, referring to the media. “It should be the focus is finding Taylor, an American, human being citizen that’s missing in the Bahamas.”

Seymore said she didn’t initially feel it was necessary to share Casey’s gender identity.

Casey’s friends and family believe she would have been found by now if she were white and cisgender.

“Without a doubt. Without a doubt,” said Seymore, 69. “There would have been way more efforts. The investigation would have been done properly, the way it should have been done.”

chicago resident Taylor Casey missing in the Bahamas
Chicago resident Taylor Casey, 41, was last seen June 19 at a yoga retreat on Paradise Island in the Bahamas.Courtesy Casey family

Local authorities have not indicated that there is evidence of foul play in the missing persons case. They have been aware of Casey’s gender identity, according to Seymore and close friend Emily Williams. 

Of the 321 murders of trans and gender-nonconforming people reported worldwide from Oct. 1, 2022, to Sept. 30, 2023, 74% were committed in Latin America and the Caribbean, according to a study by the LGBTQ advocacy group Transgender Europe. The study also found that 91% of the worldwide trans murder victims were trans women or female-presenting and that the majority were people of color.

In the Bahamas, consensual same-sex sexual activity is still partially banned, according to Human Dignity Trust, a global advocacy group for LGBTQ rights.

Casey had been participating in a yoga instructor program at the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat Bahamas when she disappeared. Police found her cellphone in the ocean nearby the retreat but have yet to recover her passport.

The ashram is on ritzy Paradise Island, adjacent to the Atlantis resort. It has been featured in The New York Times, Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and The Huffington Post as a top travel destination. Casey was an avid yogi for 15 years before she went on the trip, according to her friends and family.

Seymore said her daughter seemed like herself in phone calls they had since Casey arrived at the retreat on June 3. But on the day she was last seen alive, Seymore said, her daughter sounded off.

“Taylor told me, ‘Ma, this is hard,’” Seymore said. “And when Taylor told me that, I just felt something, because Taylor is not a quitter, and Taylor loves yoga and really wanted to do that. I just had this eerie feeling.”

Later, Seymore and Williams said, they were told that Casey appeared “isolated” and “not integrated well into the program” by several people who attended the retreat. Casey was the only Black person and the only trans person out of the 14 retreat participants, Williams said.

“Our best guess is that if things were difficult, that those dynamics contributed heavily to the difficulty that Taylor expressed,” Williams said.

Jacqueline Boyd, another of Casey’s close friends, said she was unsure whether Casey’s gender identity played a role in her disappearance. But she added that in recent years, as Casey began living more openly, she became more trusting.

“My perspective is that, you know, something not OK has happened to Taylor,” Boyd said. “And that potentially, you know, in this moment of being on this retreat, there might be people that seemed trustworthy or who seemed not ill-intentioned but could have done harm to Taylor. We just would have heard from her if there was any other option.”

On June 20, Seymore got the call from the retreat that Casey was missing. Ashram staffers reported Casey’s disappearance to the Royal Bahamas Police Force, or RBPF, police said in a news release, after they notified Seymore. 

Five days later, Seymore and Williams flew down to the Bahamas from Chicago to meet with police investigators and collect her belongings. The meetings were unsuccessful, they said.

They accused the authorities of giving them information that contradicts what officials told the media. They also said police did not put up missing persons posters near or at the ashram, although they posted them online.

The Royal Bahamas Police Force did not immediately respond to request for comment. In a news release last week, it said Paradise Island police and the Marine Support Services were mobilized to search for Casey on land and sea “immediately.”

“This is a matter of priority for the Royal Bahamas Police Force, and we will continue to work arduously, doing all we can to locate Taylor and ensure her safe return to her family,” the RBPF said in the release. “Additionally, the police will diligently seek to determine what happened to Taylor, and in the process, all relevant stakeholders will be updated in a timely manner.”

Last week, the RBPF announced that its chief superintendent, Michael Johnson, who leads the department’s criminal investigations, has been placed on “garden leave,” or temporarily barred from work while he remains on the payroll.

Johnson’s departure does not appear to be related to Casey’s case. The RBPF referred to “the recent circulation of voice notes” involving Johnson in announcing his leave. Caribbean media has reported leaked voice notes allegedly show Johnson discussed dropping criminal investigations in exchange for money. Johnson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

“It makes so much more sense now to know that that person is now suspended because of corruption and taking bribes,” Williams said. “That certainly lines up with our impression of how things were not right when we were there.”

Seymore and Williams also slammed the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat Bahamas. They said staff members gave them conflicting accounts of when Casey was last seen alive and deterred them from seeking out information from other guests.

“They struggled to keep a cohesive, linear narrative about the details of what happened,” Williams said.  

More coverage of Taylor Casey’s disappearance

Jonathan Goldbloom, a spokesperson for the retreat, said in a statement that the ashram appreciates “the stress that the family is feeling,” but he pushed back against the accusations.

“We determined Taylor was missing on June 20th and advised the police that evening. The night before was the last time she was seen,” Goldbloom said. “We advised staff and guests on the 20th as well and have continued to keep them informed. We have also urged people to come forward if they have information. We are collaborating with police and sharing all we know.”

“I would also like to point out that the police have advised that they believe that Taylor left the ashram voluntarily,” Goldbloom added.

Seymore said she wants American authorities to take over the case. She added that she has been in contact with the U.S. Embassy in the Bahamas and staffers from the offices of Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois to try to recruit American authorities to help with the search but have so far been unsuccessful. 

On Thursday, Casey’s 42nd birthday, Seymore, Williams and other friends and members of Casey’s family will host a news conference in Chicago to continue advocating on her behalf.

“Taylor, we love you. We miss you. We want you home,” Seymore said through tears. “Happy birthday. Happy birthday, Taylor.”

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