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Philadelphia man dies by suicide after video goes viral of him defending relationship with trans girlfriend, friends say

Anna Orso, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA -- A 20-year-old Philadelphia man who recently defended his relationship with his transgender girlfriend in a video that went viral was found dead Sunday -- friends say by suicide -- setting off a national conversation about how people are treated for whom they love.

This week, #RIPreese has gone viral, prompting an outpouring of support for Maurice Willoughby from prominent voices in the LGBTQ community like actress Laverne Cox, as well as politicians including congressman and presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke, who tweeted: "No one should lose their life because of who they are or who they love."

The investigation into Willoughby's death is still pending, according to the city Department of Public Health. Police haven't responded to a request for details.

His death has also sparked the widespread sharing of a video of Willoughby, which first spread on Twitter over the summer, being harassed by a group of men on the street for his relationship with his transgender girlfriend. It wasn't immediately clear who initially posted the video which, as of Thursday morning, had been viewed nearly four million times.

On July 18, Willoughby went live on Facebook and defended his relationship with the woman, named Faith. He had previously posted about her, writing "I don't care if she wasn't born a woman she is a woman to me & I love her flaws that's what makes her faith if you heard her story it's motivating."

Amethyst Jade Lee, a 25-year-old who described Willoughby as a close friend, said he was a "funny sweetheart" who wasn't afraid to say who he was.

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"He was brave enough to say 'I ain't ashamed of myself, I am what I am, I do what I do, I'm living my best life,'" she said. "Hate is so strong and i just dont understand it."

She added: "If I could tell him anything, I would want him to know I'm not mad at him. And I love you and I think about you every day."

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