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GLAAD at 25: Angie Zapata and Transgender Day of Remembrance

GLAAD's Senior Media Field Strategist Adam Bass (Left) with Angie Zapata's sister, Monica

This week, GLAAD will celebrate 25 years of amplifying LGBT voices. As part of that celebration, GLAAD Blog will revisit some of GLAAD’s culture-changing work as told by former and current staff members and volunteers.

Below, GLAAD's Senior Media Field Strategist, Adam Bass, remembers GLAAD’s work to help share the story of Angie Zapata, an 18-year-old transgender woman who was brutally beaten to death in an anti-transgender hate crime.

For more information about Transgender Day of Remembrance, click here.

For more information about GLAAD’s 25th Anniversary, click here.

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By Adam Bass, Senior Media Field Strategist at GLAAD

GLAAD first learned of the murder of 18-year-old Angie Zapata through several emails on July 22nd, 2008.  It was five days after her murder.  The emails alerted us to local stories from The Tribune in Greeley, Colorado, that used incorrect pronouns and failed to recognize Angie as a transgender woman.  At that point, it was still unclear why Angie had been murdered.  The police had yet to apprehend a suspect or discover a motive.

About a week later, police arrested Allen Andrade for Angie’s murder, when they found him in possession of Angie’s car.  Through interrogating Andrade, they determined he was motivated to kill Angie due to his own anti-transgender bias.

I was on a plane to Colorado within days.  I was able to attend the public memorial for Angie held at the University of Northern Colorado, in Greeley.  Angie’s story was beginning to become big news in Colorado.  Not only was the gruesome nature of her murder getting media attention, but the media was very interested in the fact that she apparently was killed for no other reason than her murderer hated transgender people.  In Greeley, I was able to meet with the Managing Editor of The Tribune.  I also met with reporters covering this story from The Denver Post, the Associated Press, and several local Denver television stations.  This began what then consumed much of the next year.

Angie’s murderer was charged with first degree murder and a hate crime.  This was the first time that Colorado’s hate crime law would be tested in this way, and at that point no one had ever been successfully prosecuted anywhere in the country for a hate crime in conjunction with the murder of a transgender person.

At the memorial service I first met Angie’s family for the first time.  I was able to hug Maria, Angie’s mom as well as Gonzalo and Monica, her siblings.  I heard them speak with such love and mourning as they talked about Angie.

Over the next few months GLAAD gathered a group of local leaders from the transgender community as well as local leaders from LGBT organizations.  GLAAD presented a communications plan to the group, based on conversations with Angie’s family and local transgender leaders – in an effort to help ensure that media coverage of Angie’s murder trial always put the family’s wishes for Angie’s memory first followed closely by ensuring that transgender people were never maligned.  We were well aware that the defense would attempt to use a “transgender panic” defense as rationale for mitigating the punishment for the murder.  GLAAD was determined, regardless of what happened in the court room, that the media never allow the memory of Angie’s life to be disrespected – nor for transgender victims of crime, like Angie, to be blamed by their perpetrators for the crimes committed against them.

I sat in the court room near Maria Zapata every day of the trial.  In this capacity, I was able to help field reporter inquiries from the local and national media that covered this story on a daily basis during the two week trial in April 2009.  When the verdict was read, reporters from over a dozen media outlets, including the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and the Associated Press were in the courtroom.

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