Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

“Gender-Neutral” Teenager Set Afire While Sleeping in Horrific Hate Crime

Teen Sasha Fleischman, set on fire by homophobic 16-year-old attacker as he slept on a transit bus.

Teen Sasha Fleischman, set on fire by homophobic 16-year-old attacker as he slept on a transit bus.

Oakland, California – An 18-year-old teen who identifies as “non-binary” or “gender-neutral” was set on fire Monday evening as he slept soundly in the rear of an AC Transit bus.  Luke “Sasha” Fleischman, a popular student at Berkeley’s Maybeck High School, suffered second and third degree burns on his legs when a 16-year-old assailant set a skirt Fleischman was wearing alight.  Passengers on board the bus aided Fleischman in extinguishing the stubborn flames.  The attacker, Richard Thomas, who was arrested Tuesday on the campus of Oakland High School, now admits that his feelings of homophobia led him to try and burn the sleeping teen alive.

NBC Bay Area News reports that anger at the attacker and compassion for Fleischman emerged quickly as news of the attack spread throughout the East Bay area.  Fleischman, whose mother told the Bay Area Newsgroup that her child felt comfortable wearing female-identified clothing such as a skirt, has long understood himself to be gender neutral.  “My son considers himself agender,” Debbie Fleischman said. “He likes to wear a skirt. It’s his statement. That’s how he feels comfortable dressing.”  The teenager’s cousin, 25-year-old Tara Young, a graduate student at the University of California at Berkeley, said “I don’t care what he was wearing, You don’t light someone on fire.”

Rushed to the Burn Center at San Francisco’s St. Francis Memorial Hospital, Fleischman underwent surgery on his legs Wednesday. Donations have poured in to help defray the cost of his medical care, topping $20,000 in a matter of hours.  Hospital officials confirmed that the teenager will need to undergo painful skin grafts and “several surgeries.”

Meanwhile, his attacker, 16-year-old Richard Thomas, who had been arrested and initially charged with assault with a deadly weapon and mayhem, is now being fully charged for each count as a bias-motivated hate crime after admitting his intense homophobic feelings motivated him to set his victim’s clothing on fire.  KQED News reports that Alameda County law enforcement officials, who acknowledge the attack on Fleischman was motivated by anti-queer hatred, are charging Thomas as an adult.  The Oakland Tribune interviewed lead Police Investigator in the case, Anwawm Jones, who confirmed, “During (the) suspect interview, the suspect stated he did it because he was homophobic.”  Oakland District Attorney Nancy O’Malley told The Tribune that Thomas’s “violent and senseless criminal conduct resulted in severe and traumatic injuries to a young and entirely innocent victim,” and went on to say, “The intentional and callous nature of the crime is shocking and will not be tolerated in our community. Our thoughts remain with the victim and the victim’s family in wishing for a full recovery from the extensive burns suffered as a result of this crime.”

Felony aggravated assault carries a possible life sentence with a possibility of parole, the assault charge has a maximum penalty of eight years in prison, and each count of hate crime enhancement adds a year in prison, according to the Alameda District Attorney’s Office.

“Sasha” Fleischman represents an emerging group of youth who do not fit into the male/female binary, some of whom consider themselves gender-neutral, agender, or genderqueer.  According to his parents, Sasha came out as agender two years ago, and became politically active in order to carve out a place in American consciousness for youth like himself.  He gathered over 27,000 signatures on a petition with which he attempt to draw President Obama’s attention to the issue, as reported by the San Jose Mercury News.

November 7, 2013 - Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, California, gender-neutral youth, genderqueer youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, immolation, LGBTQ | , , , , , , , ,

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