Tuesday, November 14, 2006
November 2006 TransGriot Column
Justice? Or Just-Us?
Copyright 2006, THE LETTER
November is a bittersweet month for me. I’ll be taking part along with other transgender community members November 20 in the local Transgender Day of Remembrance ceremony. It will happen at the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
What is the TDOR? It’s an event that takes place to memorialize the more than 200 plus people we have lost due to anti-transgender violence. It was started in reaction to the November 28, 1998 murder of Rita Hester, a Boston African-American transwoman. This homicide happened seven weeks after Matthew Shepard’s slaying in Wyoming.
When Rita was disrespected in the gay and straight press by being called ‘he’, having her name placed in quotation marks and being called a sex worker despite living 20 years as a woman, local transactivists erupted in outrage. They were already upset over the verdict that was handed down in the May 1997 Chanelle Pickett trial. She was an African-American transwoman killed in her home by William Palmer after being picked up by him at a Boston GLBT club. Palmer was only convicted of assault and battery, given a 2 ½ year jail sentence with six months of it suspended and five years probation.
Rita Hester’s death gave San Francisco activist Gwen Smith the impetus to begin the Remembering our Dead web project. She also helped organize a 1999 San Francisco candlelight vigil that has grown into a worldwide event. The LPTS has sponsored an observance since 2002 and I was honored to be the featured speaker for the inaugural 2002 event and the 2003 one.
How big a problem is anti-trans violence? According to a September 2005 Amnesty International report, over 3068 people worldwide have been killed due to anti-transgender violence over the last 30 years. 92% of those cases are still waiting to be solved.
One distressing aspect of the 11-page AI report is police misconduct and abuse of transgender people. It contained summaries of the testimony of 23 New York City transwomen who described mistreatment at the hands of police officers. Those stories combined with the cavalier way that many police departments handle assaults and crimes committed against transgender people have contributed to a climate of mistrust, loathing and fear of the police in the transgender community.
An example of this is a recent July 10 attack in which transwoman Christina Sforza was attacked by the manager of a New York City McDonalds with a lead pipe for going to the women’s bathroom. The staff allegedly chanted ‘kill the faggot’ during the assault. When the victim’s friend called NYPD, the officers arrested Ms Sforza and charged her with assault.
When she was released from jail, according to TransJustice she attempted to file a complaint at the NYPD Midtown South Precinct against the manager on six separate occasions. In addition to each request being denied, Ms Sforza encountered harassment, extremely long wait periods, and was threatened with arrest for "filing a false report."
Unfortunately that’s the reality that transpeople deal with. It’s never far from our minds that each and every one of us could one day find ourselves in a similar situation facing a potentially violent and possibly fatal confrontation with a transphobe. We bow our heads, say a prayer that it doesn't happen and exhale. When we do hear about cases like Ms Sforza’s we shake our heads and say to ourselves ‘there but for the grace of God go I’.
You have to ask yourself; what about this transwoman so threatened this guy that he assaulted her just for going to the bathroom? And what's up with NYPD not doing their job and investigating the assault or allowing the victim to press charges?
I don't care whether you hate me or not, I do have the constitutional right as an American citizen to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Just because you hate me doesn't give you the right to assault me, kill me or jack with my civil rights to make you feel superior.