Unfinished Lives

Remembering LGBT Hate Crime Victims

Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Murders Skyrocket; Highest Hate Crime Murder Rate Ever Recorded

Burke Burnett, 26, of Paris, Texas narrowly missed being murdered in an October 2011 anti-gay hate crime (Dallas Voice photo). Two of the three persons who assaulted him have received long prison sentences with hate crimes enhancements.

New York, New York – LGBTQH hate crimes murders in 2011 reached the highest number in recorded United States history, according to the annual report of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). The frightening statistics of gays, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender persons, and HIV-affected persons brutally murdered in homophobic hate crimes was released to the press on May 31. Among the highlights of the disturbing 2011 report:

  • The number of murders of LGBTQH people ROSE a full 11 per cent
  • 30 murders recorded; the highest number since the NCAVP has kept records
  • Transgender women, people of color, and gender variant youth are experiencing the most severe assault of violence against them
  • 87 per cent of these murders befell LGBTQH people of color
  • This high murder rate is the third year in a row (2009, 2010, and now 2011) that shows hate crimes killings rising
  • Youth and Young Adults were 2.41 times more likely to have been physically attacked in bias-related crimes than the general LGBTQH population
  • Transgender women comprised 40 per cent of the murder totals, making the second year in a row that Transwomen faced violence in outsized proportions to their numbers in the LGBTQH community

Even though the report shows a 16 per cent decrease in bias-related acts of violence against the LGBTQH community, an encouraging trend, the decrease is overthrown by the alarming jump in hate crimes murders. Detroit, Michigan, for example, showed a major increase in violence against transgender people, prompting Nusrat Ventimiglia of Equality Michigan to note that much of their budget was being consumed in response to the hike in the murder rate in the queer community. Rebecca Waggoner of OutFront Minnesota said that the outrage of youth murders and suicides demands more money and staff on the part of anti-violence programs nationwide to address the epidemic of death among gender variant young people.

Since the Matthew Shepard/James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act was signed into law by President Obama in October 2009, the incidence of homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic murder has increased year by year, indicating that vigorous prosecution of killers is demanded by the U.S. Justice Department, the FBI, and all branches of state and local law enforcement.  NCAVP’s New York City Anti-Violence Co-ordinator, Chai Jindasurat, said to the media: “NCAVP’s findings are a call to policymakers, advocates, and community members that the prevention of violence against LGBTQ and HIV-affected individuals needs to be a priority.” The report includes specific  policy changes that may reduce the increasing trend of these murders, including an increase in funding for LGBTQH anti-violence support and prevention, and a concentrated effort to bring an end of the homophobic, transphobic, and biphobic culture that fuels hate violence.

18 states do not currently include sexual orientation in their hate crimes statutes, and 22 states do not include gender identity or gender expression. This lack of state concern for LGBTQH victims of hate crime allows the suspects of anti-gay or anti-transgender acts to believe they can carry out their bias crimes against the queer community with impunity. Even when a state has a hate crimes law on the books, like Texas, the rarity of its use by local law enforcement and district attorneys emboldens homophobic killers to carry out their irrational violence without fearing prosecution.

 The media report condensing the massive 2011 NCAVP hate crimes report can be downloaded here.

June 4, 2012 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, bi-phobia, Bullycide, Equality Michigan, FBI, gay bashing, Gender Variant Youth, GLBTQ, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, Heterosexism and homophobia, LGBTQ, LGBTQ suicide, Matthew Shepard Act, Michigan, Minnesota, National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP), New York, OutFront Minnesota, Social Justice Advocacy, Texas, transphobia, U.S. Justice Department | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Gay, Lesbian, Transgender Murders Skyrocket; Highest Hate Crime Murder Rate Ever Recorded

Transgender Woman Savagely Murdered in Detroit

East Detroit kill site where trans woman Coko Williams was brutally murdered (Detroit Free Press photo)

Detroit, Michigan – A 35-year-old trans woman was found murdered outside a Parkhurst neighborhood home on Tuesday morning. Because of the reputation of the area, and the stigma associating transgender women with sex workers, the killing of Coko Williams is being lost in the struggle of a neighborhood to survive.  Ms. Williams was found with her throat slashed and shot to death around 6:25 a.m. Tuesday in an area of East Detroit habituated by male and female prostitutes–one that could be justifiably described as “gritty.”  WWJ, the local CBS affiliate, reports that details are still emerging at this hour, but witnesses told police that the killers sped from the crime scene in a gold-colored vehicle.  No suspects have been identified at this time.

News coverage, like that done by Fox News 2, has been slanted toward the determination of Parkhurst residents to eliminate prostitution, drug sales, and violence from their area. Ms. Williams’ murder simply serves Fox as an example of the problems residents face. The Examiner presents Ms. Williams as a “man dressed as a woman,” showing the victim’s self-identification as inconsequential in an otherwise sensational story.  Both news sources illustrate the massive difficulty transgender people face overcoming the biased stereotypes that demean trans people everywhere, and denigrate the characters of trans victims of violence, such as Ms. Williams.

Coko Williams was well-known and well-liked, according to the Trans Women’s Anti-Violence Program. A friend of Ms. Williams who identified herself as Dada told TWAVP that she had known Ms. Williams for fifteen years. Though she was “a loner,” Ms. Dada said, “She was really a sweet, quiet girl. She was never shady or nasty. She wasn’t that type of girl at all. She was always respectful of herself and to other people. It’s sad for her to go out the way she did.”  Her friends told authorities that supported herself as a hair stylist.

Equality Michigan’s Director of Victim Services, Nursrat Ventimiglia, issued an extensive statement to the press, combatting the disinformation surrounding Ms. Williams’ hate crime murder, and calling upon the Detroit Police to apprehend her killers with all possible speed. “It has been widely reported,” Ventimiglia said, “that the area in which this crime occurred is known for sex work. To be clear, it is unknown at this time whether Ms. Williams was engaged in sex work at the time of her killing, however, it is clear that sex workers are often targets of severe violence. Further, transgender women are far too often victims of the most severe violence.”

Ventimiglia then detailed the crisis of transgender violence rocking Detroit and the nation: “Our most recent report through the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2010, documented 27 anti gay, transgender and HIV positive murders, the second highest yearly total ever recorded by the coalition, and transgender women made up 44% of the 27 reported murders in 2010 while representing only 11% of total survivors and victims. Among transgender murder victims, 42% of transgender women killed last year were engaged in sex work at the time of their murder. Equality Michigan and the NCAVP denounce violence against sex workers and seek to raise awareness of the violence faced by gay and transgender sex workers as well as transgender women.”

The investigation is ongoing.

April 5, 2012 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Equality Michigan, GLBTQ, gun violence, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Lesbian women, LGBTQ, Media Issues, Michigan, Slashing attacks, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, transphobia, Unsolved LGBT Crimes | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Company Rattles Spears, But HIV Discrimination Story Stands, Corroborated by News Reports

Detroit, MI – HIV discrimination charges against Great Expressions Dental Center of Detroit have drawn national attention.  They have also drawn the ire of the dental center’s corporate lawyers, who threatened the petitioner on Change.org with legal action to make him take down his original petition.  In response, the petitioner has done so, and another is launched in its place, citing corroboration by reporter Todd Heywood of POZ Magazine in a story dated December 8, 2011, of the charges concerning the firing of HIV-positive James White by Great Expressions Dental Centers.  The company denies any wrongdoing, and in a missive widely sent to bloggers who carried the discrimination story, claims to be gay friendly and a staunch supporter of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  While the ultimate truth will probably only come out in court, the story of White’s outing as HIV positive, subsequent harassment by employees with Lysol disinfectant, questionable “unexcused absence” charges, and his firing by the company are corroborated by the POZ article.

POZ also cites the Detroit Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s letter to White, advising him and his attorneys of their ruling of reasonable cause to conclude that Great Expressions had indeed discriminated against White in violation of the ADA.  An excerpt of the EEOC letter reads: “Based upon the above and the record as a whole, there is reasonable cause to believe that the Charging Party [James White] was disciplined, denied reasonable accommodation, and discharged due to his disability, in violation of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended.” 

As the company’s denial and threats indicate, this case will be battled out for some time to come.  White and his attorneys are apparently undaunted, and are proceeding with their suit against Great Expressions for compensatory and punitive damages.  In the meantime, if the allegations prove to be true against Great Expressions, a big dental company with deep pockets, then White’s case will serve as a warning to any other company that discriminates against employees because of their disabilities.  Workplace discrimination is inexcusable. It is also inexcusable not to know how the HIV virus is spread, or to prey upon ignorance and fear that often accompany news of the disease.  This blog will continue to monitor events related to this remarkable story.  That is what freedom of information and responsible use of it dictate, and it is also what social justice advocacy is all about.  Those wishing to see the new petition on Change.org can access it here.  Over 1500 have signed as of early December 22.

December 22, 2011 Posted by | Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment, HIV/AIDS, Michigan, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Company Rattles Spears, But HIV Discrimination Story Stands, Corroborated by News Reports

HIV+ Employee Sprayed with Lysol, Ordered Not to Touch Doorknobs, Then Fired

Photo via Passport Magazine

Detroit, Michigan – In the worst case of job-related discrimination his lawyers have ever seen, James White got fired for revealing he was HIV+.  An office assistant for the Great Expressions Dental Center of Detroit, White revealed his positive status to his supervisor after his diagnosis, with the clear understanding she would keep the information confidential, according to Passport Magazine.   His superiors then leaked word of his HIV status to coworkers who harassed him for seven months, spraying him with Lysol disinfectant, wiping down any furniture or office equipment he used, and banning him from touching doorknobs.  Management subjected White to sudden scheduling changes, and then wrote him up for tardiness and “unexcused absences” until they believed they had enough to fire him.  Dogged by harassment and exhausted by the abuse, White was hospitalized for post traumatic stress disorder.  While he was in the hospital, Great Expressions called to inform him not to return to work.

White appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which tried to mediate between White and Great Expressions.  The Detroit chapter of the EEOC ruled in White’s favor earlier this year, finding that there was “reasonable cause” to believe White was discriminated against because of his HIV+ status. The dental firm refused any settlement with White, and the EEOC cleared him to sue his former employer for gross discrimination and violating the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.  The Body, an HIV-related blog, writes: “In 2011, particularly in an urban environment, absolutely no one has any excuse for being unaware of the ways in which HIV is transmitted. Anyone that has ever had even rudimentary sexual health education knows that HIV is not spread by casual contact, including touch. And an employer has a moral and LEGAL obligation to protect its employees from discrimination, particularly vulnerable populations.” 

White’s lawyers have filed a lawsuit demanding compensatory and punitive damages of $140,000 and $45,000, respectively, and requiring the company to post notice of the agreement as well as providing training on HIV/AIDS and the Americans with Disabilities Act. Change.org has posted a petition protesting the action of Great Expressions and demanding their apology to White, which is accessible here. There are over 25,500 signatures as of December 20. Great Expressions operates clinics in Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Georgia, Connecticut, Virginia and Massachusetts.

December 20, 2011 Posted by | Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, Employment discrimination, Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), harassment, HIV/AIDS, Michigan, Protests and Demonstrations, Social Justice Advocacy | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on HIV+ Employee Sprayed with Lysol, Ordered Not to Touch Doorknobs, Then Fired

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 | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Detroit Trans Teen’s Remains Found Burned Near Interstate

Anti-LGBT Junk Suit Fails Against Shepard Hate Crimes Law

Washington, D.C. – Human Rights Campaign Back Story reports that a suit brought against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act failed in the U.S. District Court of Eastern Michigan.  The suit, put forward by Michigan pastors and the American Family Association of Michigan, challenged the constitutionality of the Shepard Act in February of this year.  Among its claims, the suit alleged that the Shepard Act forecloses on the free exercise of fundamental rights of those who “publicly oppose homosexual activism, the homosexual lifestyle, and the homosexual agenda.”  Further, the law suit argues that the Shepard Act creates “thought crimes” and “is an effort to eradicate religious beliefs opposing the homosexual agenda.”  The three Michigan pastors claimed that the law had chilled their rights under the First Amendment, the Tenth Amendment, the Equal Protection Clause, and the Commerce Clause.  U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder called upon the court to dismiss the case, arguing that the Shepard Act does not violate the rights of Americans, and was passed to protect LGBTQ people in this country from physical violence, not thought or speech.  The judge hearing the case agreed with Attorney General Holder, and dismissed the case as meritless on all counts on September 7.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | Anti-LGBT hate crime, anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Bisexual persons, gay men, Hate Crimes, hate crimes prevention, hate speech, Heterosexism and homophobia, Human Rights Campaign, Legislation, Lesbian women, Matthew Shepard Act, Michigan, religious hate speech, religious intolerance, Social Justice Advocacy, transgender persons, transphobia, U.S. Justice Department, Washington, D.C. | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-LGBT Junk Suit Fails Against Shepard Hate Crimes Law

Serial Hate Crimes Against LGBTs Up 63% in Colorado

Colorado state sealDenver – In a report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs issued Tuesday, the numbers of anti-LGBT hate crimes in the Centennial State jumped 63% in one year.  Among the 2008 murders of queer folk was the notorious beating-death of 18-year-old Angie Zapata, a transgender Latina living in Greeley.  Allen Ray Andrade, a date, repeatedly bashed Zapata with a home fire extinguisher until she succumbed.  Andrade’s conviction for murder under Colorado’s Hate Crime Law was a landmark moment, demonstrating to the nation how significant hate crime enhancements can be in penalizing fatal bias-related attacks against LGBT people.  Though he used a version of the trans-panic defense to excuse his actions, arguing that Zapata had somehow deserved her death because of “deceiving” him as to her biological gender, Andrade was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole.  According to the Denver Daily News, the Colorado Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (COAVP) expressed concern over the 24% spike in the number of offenders, meaning that multiple perpetrators attacked a smaller number of victims during the past year.  This indicates that certain victims of anti-LGBT hate crimes are targeted for violence that unfolds in a spectrum from verbal harassment to physical attack by more than one antagonist.  While this disturbing feature of homophobic and transphobic violence had been suspected by gay rights activists, this report in Colorado is the first to confirm their fears.  The percentage of victims also rose significantly during 2008.  While the nationwide average rise in victims of harassment, bashing, and murder was 2%, the Colorado numbers moved up a full 8%.  Added to the increases of reported violent attacks against LGBT people in Minnesota, Michigan, California, and Tennessee, the Colorado hate crimes statistics contribute to a growing sense that a full-scale national trend of increasing harm against members of the sexual minority is in the offing.

June 18, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Beatings and battery, Blame the victim, Bludgeoning, California, Colorado, harassment, Hate Crime Statistics, Hate Crimes, Heterosexism and homophobia, Latino and Latina Americans, Law and Order, Michigan, Minnesota, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Social Justice Advocacy, Tennessee, trans-panic defense, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Serial Hate Crimes Against LGBTs Up 63% in Colorado

Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes the Highest Since 1999

Anti-LGBT violence is up 28% in one year

Anti-LGBT violence is up 28% in one year

As Stonewall 40 approaches next week, a New York-based coalition of anti-violence programs reports that bias crimes against LGBT people rose 28% from 2007 to 2008.  The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) confirms the grim trend Unfinished Lives has been reporting for months: hate crimes against members of the sexual minority are not only higher than at any time in a decade, but the degree of brutality in the execution of these crimes has also intensified.  Marcus Franklin of the Associated Press notes for the Huffington Post that the 29 confirmed bias-related murders of queer folk in 2008 reported by the NCAVP matches the number of similar killings it registered in its 1999 report.  The Unfinished Lives Project has noted dramatic increases in anti-LGBT murders and assaults since the latter part of 2008 in California, Michigan, Minnesota, and Tennessee, and has highlighted the extreme savagery of these attacks as in the case of 45 stab wounds in U.S. Army veteran Michael Scott Goucher’s murder in East Stroudsburg, PA, and Duanna Johnson’s shooting death in Memphis, TN.  The Huffpost article issued today quotes Sharon Stapel, executive director of the New York Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, which co-ordinates the NCAVP nationally with pointing to an increase of violence during the presidential campaign last fall, as well as ominous increases during the high-profile national debates over same-sex marriage, the possible passage of the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), and the proposed repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell (DADT).  “The more visibility there is the more likely we’re going to see backlash, and that’s exactly what we see here,” Stapel said.  Since the NCAVP reports anti-Transgender hate crimes in distinction from the annual FBI’s hate crimes report that does not, Stapel is able to reference a more accurate picture of the landscape of peril in which LGBT Americans find themselves.  Even so, organizations from only 25 of the 50 states report to the NCAVP, indicating that the

Duanna Johnson, Transwoman, murdered in Memphis

Duanna Johnson, Transwoman, murdered in Memphis

actual number of bias-related hate crimes against LGBT people may be much higher.  Additional factors arguing for higher numbers of these crimes than are reported by either the NCAVP or the FBI are the stigma and despair often associated with violent crimes against queer women and men.  Local law enforcement agencies tend to skew their investigations away from anti-gay or transgender motives as a reflection of the bias rampant in their home locales.  Victims often fear exposure and media scrutiny for themselves and their loved ones, and therefore do not report crimes against their persons.  LGBT victims are often discredited as sources of reliable information and are routinely blamed somehow for their own misfortune.  Finally, as the Unfinished Lives Project has noted in repeated instances, American heterosexism and homophobia have created a climate for LGBT people such that their lives and deaths are valued less than those of other people, causing reports of attacks and murders against them to be far less likely to gain attention.

The high-profile events surrounding Pride 2009 will be a tempting target for hate groups around the country.  At no time since the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998 has the public presence of LGBT people and their allies been more significant than this season.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | anti-LGBT hate crime murder, Blame the victim, California, Hate Crime Statistics, Heterosexism and homophobia, Marriage Equality, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, Perpetrators of Hate Crime, Politics, Social Justice Advocacy, stabbings, Tennessee, transgender persons, transphobia | , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Anti-LGBT Hate Crimes the Highest Since 1999


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