Spotlight on the Colorado Anti-Violence Program

The work of the Colorado Anti-Violence Program (CAVP) is incredibly vital - and also challenging. It requires being available to hear and then respond to the horrific attacks on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community members. Twenty-four hours a day, the staff of CAVP provide direct client services including crisis intervention, information, and referrals for LGBTQ victims of violence. CAVP also works closely with community organizations, law enforcement, and mainstream services. All of this work is done to fullfill CAVP's mission of eliminating violence within and against LGBTQ communities in Colorado. CAVP is part of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), an umbrella organization that works to fulfill the same mission, but on a national level. GLAAD was excited to have the opportunity to interview CAVP's Crystal Middlestadt, the Director of Training and Communication, and Kelly Costello, the Director of Victim Services. The interview focuses on their work around anti-transgender violence and specifically on Angie Zapata, a young woman murdered in Colorado this summer. You can read more about her life in this article, written by her sister. You can also download a PDF of the NCAVP 2007's report on anti-LGBTQ violence here.
What trends of violence do you see against transgender people in Colorado and nationally? As I mentioned before, there are definitely many reasons why transgender people hesitate to report incidents of violence. While CAVP is a community based organization that does not make police reports without the desire of the survivor, many fears are still present with reporting. Many transgender people have previously had negative experiences with law enforcement or know someone else who has. Transgender people may not be believed or have their gender questioned, taking emphasis off of the incident. They may be asked to explain the incident in more detail than a non-transgender person would be asked. Overall, there are many possible ways someone can be re-victimized in the process of reporting. This being said, so far in 2008 (January-October), approximately 18% of the calls received by CAVP are from transgender individuals. This number has stayed fairly consistent, with transgender callers accounting for 16% of calls in 2007 and 21% in 2006. Of the calls from transgender people so far in 2008, the most consistent types of calls are regarding bias (26%), homelessness (19%) and domestic violence (16%). From your experience, are these numbers and trends reflected in media coverage? For several reasons, I don't believe that the numbers of incidents of violence against transgender people are accurately reflected in media coverage. First, because of the hesitation to report, the numbers available may not be an accurate snapshot of the actual violence existing in transgender communities. Second, because of ongoing incidents of bias/harassment/discrimination, people do not always want the media attention, just access to resources. Third, even when information is reported to media, it is not always picked up as an urgent story. Whenever there is a high-profile incident in the media, many people refer back to Matthew Shepard, believing that hate crimes and murders have not happened since 1998. Unfortunately, this violence is an everyday occurrence for some. Colorado suffered an incredibly devastating loss this year with the brutal murder of Angie Zapata. Can you talk about working with her family? On a personal level, it has been amazing to work with the Zapata family. Their love and support of Angie shows through in all of their actions and their strength through their grieving process has been remarkable. It has been an honor to be trusted so much by the Zapata family and to be able to act as a liaison for media and the community. I would also like to acknowledge how local community was attuned to and prioritized the family's needs and desires, never losing focus on Angie throughout a community's mourning process for another murder. Angie had an incredibly supportive family and community around her.  How do you think that changed the way the media and people across the US responded to her murder? The public support of both family and community has definitely affected the way media and people across the US responded to Angie's murder. By consistently referring to Angie using her correct name and pronouns helps to provide a more accurate picture of what happened when she was killed. By having a District Attorney's office that is willing to use correct language, messages are communicated to both the media and to LGBTQ community that her experience is recognized and honored. We have seen many murder victims in the transgender community dehumanized, demonized, and made invisible. We are grateful that attention has been brought to this issue and that, overall, has been covered appropriately in the media. I know that Adam Bass, our Western Media Field Strategist and members of Media Matters worked closely with CAVP in responding to media coverage. What was your experience like working with the media around Angie Zapata's murder? Having done little to no media work in the past, CAVP staff stepped up to the challenge. We served as media liaisons for the Zapata family to allow them privacy. Honestly, I was surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of media coverage this case received. While these murders are happening nationally, many are not reported in the media or only receive a passing mention. We are much appreciative of GLAAD, specifically Adam Bass and Mik Kinkead, for support in responding to articles that exhibited transphobia or incorrect/offensive language. Have you seen any positive changes in local discussions of transgender issues due to CAVP's role in sharing the story of Angie and her family in the media? I am happy to say that there are many positive changes happening lately. There are several organizations and individuals who are coming together to be more proactive in local organizing, both in the Denver-metro area and northern Colorado. CAVP continues to be a point of contact for violence within and against the LGBTQ community and we are strengthening our relationships with community members statewide on how to address this violence. Is there anything else you'd like to share with people to help them understand the work you do and the ways people can become involved in violence prevention? The Colorado Anti-Violence Program is dedicated to eliminating violence within and against the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) communities in Colorado, and providing the highest quality services to survivors. The most common types of violence we work with are hate crimes and partner abuse. We also have cases that involve random violence, sexual assault, and HIV-motivated violence. We are always looking for volunteers and financial support. Check out our Web site or contact for more information. Finally, what does the Transgender Day of Remembrance mean to you? (we are asking this question to many transgender people and allies. You can check out other responses here) Personally, Transgender Day of Remembrance is an opportunity to recognize the pattern of violence that affects the transgender community. These are not isolated events. It's also a time to come together with community to grieve and hopefully gain some sense of closure on such a hard topic.