Transgender Hate Crimes Panel Provides Personal Stories as well as Advocacy Insight

rsz_1roxanneWednesday evening’s panel on transgender hate-crimes  in Brooklyn, New York, covered a range of perspectives and issues as victims, their families, and advocates discussed both their direct experience with bias-motivated crime and their work to educate the media, the government and law enforcement about gender identity and expression and anti-transgender crimes.

The event began with GLAAD’s own Senior Media Strategist Andy Marra and the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund’s executive director Michael Silverman relating the complications and they faced during their recent work in Syracuse, N.Y. during the July trial held for Lateisha Green’s murder.  First, they encountered the unfortunately common problem of law enforcement officials and reporters relaying incorrect information about the victim’s identity and dress; next came the prolonged effort to ensure that the crime was investigated as a hate crime and given the priority investigation status it merited; and finally, the complex issue of educating the media about Lateisha Green's transgender identity while fighting in court, out of necessity, for a conviction under the category of a hate-crime committed on the basis of sexual orientation.

As explained in the Appendix of TLDEF’s Violence Against Transgender People Resource Kit, while New York State law classifies it as a hate crime for an individual to target and attack a victim because of the victim’s actual or perceived sexual orientation, it does not explicitly make it a hate crime for an individual to attack another because of the victim’s gender identity or expression.  The Boy in Bushwick blog quoted Michael Silverman describing how lawyers had to construct a “narrative that Teish was gay or lesbian to achieve a conviction.”

Federal law currently offers no recourse in that area either, though that seems about to change within just a few weeks when the Senate is expected to pass the new Defense Authorization bill with the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act attached – which will expand the existing federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

The discussion then quickly moved to the first-hand experiences of Lateisha’s mother Roxanne Green, brother Mark Cannon (also shot by Lateisha’s killer that night), and friends, who all conveyed their great love for and pride in Lateisha.  Mrs. Green spoke very movingly about her constant concern for her daughter as she grew up, as well as her constant support for her, [advising] parents to always support their children no matter who they are “because once they’re gone, Lord knows there’s no turning back.”

Another client of TLDEF’s, Carmella Etienne, shared her more recent trauma of being attacked with rocks and beer bottles as she walked home from her neighborhood grocery store in Queens this July.  She recalled feeling most scarred not by the physical objects or the transphobic slurs being hurled at her, but rather by the lack of aid from onlookers and the 20 minutes she spent waiting for police assistance.

One of the major take-aways from the conversation was that there is no one single reason for the perpetration and general tolerance of crimes motivated by anti-transgender bias.  It is not simply transphobia, or sexism alone at work, but rather the way that those issues are intertwined with issues of classism and racism that have allow crimes such as these to continue in our communities.  But speaking out about these experiences and intersections will go a long way toward solving these problems.

The panel was moderated by Ejay Carter, the Empire State Pride Agenda’s Transgender Rights Program Organizer.  The event was organized by Laura Vogel, a Legal Fellow at TLDEF and third year law student at Brooklyn Law School and cosponsored by Brooklyn Law School, Empire State Pride Agenda, GLAAD, Queens Pride House, Anti-Violence Project, and the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA).