Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Detroit Trans Teen’s Remains Found Burned Near Interstate

Michele "Shelley" Hilliard, 19, had to be ID'ed by a tattoo on her upper arm.

Detroit, Michigan – The charred torso of a missing teen transwoman of color was identified this week in the Wayne County morgue where it had been stored for weeks, and left unidentified.  The remains were collected near Interstate 94 on Detroit’s east side.  Michele “Shelley” Hilliard, 19, was last seen on October 23 at 1:20 a.m., and was reported missing, according to the Detroit Free Press.  Though her facial features and fingerprints were destroyed by fire, investigators were able to make a positive identification because of a distinctive tattoo depicting cherries inked into her upper right arm.  Her mother, summoned by the Wayne County Examiners Office, also confirmed the identity of her child from the tattoo on the burnt remains. Police are now investigating Ms. Hilliard’s death as a homicide.  There is no word about whether a transphobic hate crime is suspected by the authorities, but the disappearance coupled with the attempted immolation of the remains is a familiar signature of anti-trans hate crimes.  Equality Michigan is aiding the Detroit Police Department in their investigation, according to CBS Detroit.  Michigan’s hate crimes law does not include LGBTQ persons as protected classes, making it harder to compel law enforcement to regard violence against the queer community as hate crimes.

In little more than two weeks, three gay men, Steven Iorio from Pennsylvania, Burke Burnett of Texas, and Stuart Walker from Scotland were either attacked by homophobes wielding fire as a weapon, or had their remains immolated after death. Now the immolated remains of transgender Shelley Hilliard are discovered on a Detroit Interstate service road, raising the question of how often fire is employed as a weapon of transphobic/homophobic terror.  As Philip M. Miner of the Center for Homicide Research points out for the Huffington Post, while between 600 and 700 people are killed by arson every year in the United States, fully 26 per cent of this total is from the gay and transgender community.  Miner observes that the use of fire and arson as hate crimes weapons against the LGBTQ community is normally thoroughly planned out ahead of time. He writes: “Attacks involving arson are especially brutal. Meticulous care is taken in carrying them out. The violence is heaped on . . . [Anti-LGBTQ arson attacks] are wrought with meaning,” Miner continues. “The offender wants there to be no doubt that this violence was intentional. In the case of hate crimes, it’s a warning. This is what happens when you are gay. This is what these people get — what they deserve.” 

Equality Michigan points out in its report on transgender hate violence, “During the first half of 2011, Equality Michigan received reports of 83 incidents of violence or intimidation targeting gay and transgender residents that are considered hate crimes under the [federal] Shepard-Byrd Act. However, because the statewide hate crime law is not comprehensive, incidents against gay and transgender Michiganders that are clearly motivated by anti-gay or anti-transgender bias are ignored as hate crimes.”  As a case in point, advocates are watching the Hilliard case especially closely.

Michele “Shelley” Hilliard was nicknamed “Treasure.” The irony of her murder, a young transwoman who had courage enough to transition into the authentic person she truly was, is that only now do we begin to understand the treasure we have lost in her passing.

November 11, 2011 - Posted by | African Americans, Anglo Americans, Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Arson, Burning and branding, Center for Homicide Research, Equality Michigan, gay bashing, gay men, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, Law and Order, Legislation, LGBTQ, Matthew Shepard Act, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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