“Transgender Hate Crimes: Victims, Their Families and Advocates Speak Out” was a gripping panel presentation on October 7, 2009 focusing on the challenges of advocating for transgender people, law enforcement and the media, and the underlying causes of anti-transgender hate crimes. Several speakers gave moving personal accounts of their ordeals as victims of hate crimes.
The panelists included Andy Marra, a Senior Media Strategist for Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD); Michael Silverman, Executive Director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Ejay Carter, Empire State Pride Agenda’s Transgender Rights Program Organizer, who moderated the panel. Other speakers included the mother and brother of Syracuse hate crime murder victim Lateisha Green, a young African American woman who was shot to death while riding in a car with her brother, who was also wounded in the attack. The event was co-sponsored by Outlaws, a BLS student organization, National Lawyers Guild, Brooklyn Law Students for the Public Interest (BLSPI), and the Office of Student Life.
Andy Marra and Michael Silverman, who traveled to Syracuse for Green’s murder trial, discussed the law’s shortcomings when it comes to transgender victims. Although the defendant was convicted of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime and sentenced to the maximum 25 years in prison, the trial pointed up deficiencies in New York State law. The state’s hate crime statute does not encompass bias crimes based on gender identity or expression. In Lateisha Green’s case, the only way to prosecute her murder as a hate crime was to argue that she was a gay man who was killed because of his sexual orientation. It was a misrepresentation of Green’s life and identity. Silverman noted that the exclusion of transgender victims from relief under the hate crime statute perpetuates public ignorance regarding them.
Speakers also discussed the disparate treatment of transgender victims by law enforcement and the media. Marra described how law enforcement was seemingly apathetic about Green’s case and said he believes that racism and classism also played a role. Only after pressure from Green’s family and friends did law enforcement approach the investigation with the same vigor they afford other victims, he said.
Moreover, Silverman explained, inaccurate and confusing news reports of crimes against transgender individuals are disturbingly prevalent. In Green’s case, the media reported conflicting information about her, often conflating gender identity with sexual orientation. Such misinformation in news reports risks being carried over to the trial. To effectively perform their duties, law enforcement must understand what gender identity is and be willing to treat crimes against transgender individuals with the same effort and dedication given to other victims, the panelists stressed.
Green’s mother, Roxanne, conveyed the effect of the horrifying crime on the family. An understanding parent who had accepted her child’s expression of gender identity, she is working with other families come to terms with gender non-conformity.
Carmella Etienne, the victim of a hate crime in Queens, described being brutally attacked by men who shouted anti-gay and anti-transgender slurs. She said that she is regularly insulted about her gender non-conformity and lives with the ever-present potential for violence.
In order to prevent violence, several speakers said, there must be increased discourse and education about what it means to be transgender. In addition, gender identity must be added as a protected category in the law so that hate crime victims are not forced to forfeit their true identities to achieve justice.
By Carla Sanderson ’10