Union Township, Ohio – A transgender teen girl chose to walk into the path of Interstate Highway traffic rather than face discrimination and harsh treatment for her gender expression. Cincinnati.com reports that Leelah Alcorn, 17, was struck and killed by an oncoming tractor-trailer truck at approximately 2:30 a.m. on Sunday, December 28, after leaving an extensive suicide note on her Tumblr account social media page. The driver of the truck, Abdullahi Ahmed, 39, was unhurt in the tragic incident that took place near the South Lebanon exit on I-71 because of his fastened seatbelt. Ms. Alcorn’s body was transported from the scene by the Warren County Coroner’s Office. Ohio Highway Patrol Officers are investigating what led Ms. Alcorn apparently to take her own life.
Ms. Alcorn whose account of rejection, alienation for her parents and school mates highlights the plight of transgender teens around the nation, left two notes on her blog, according to openly gay Cincinnati City Council man, Chris Seelbach : a suicide note, which may be read in its entirety on Councilman Seelbach’s Facebook Page here, and an apology note to the few friends Ms. Alcorn felt she still had at the time of her decision to take her own life. Ms. Alcorn, an M to F transgender youth whose chosen screen avatar was lazerprincess wrote that she had felt herself trapped in a male body since the age of four. In her suicide note which begins, “If you are reading this, it means that I have committed suicide and obviously failed to delete this post from my queue. Please don’t be sad, it’s for the better. The life I would’ve lived isn’t worth living in… because I’m transgender,” Leelah writes that her parents’ response to her discovery of her transgender identity contributed to a self-hatred that dogged her from age 14 until her death three years later. Her mother mandated that Leelah see conservative “Christian” therapists who only contributed to the burden of anger and depression.
The crisis apparently took place at the time of Leelah’s 16th birthday. She writes: “When I was 16 I realized that my parents would never come around, and that I would have to wait until I was 18 to start any sort of transitioning treatment, which absolutely broke my heart. The longer you wait, the harder it is to transition. I felt hopeless, that I was just going to look like a man in drag for the rest of my life. On my 16th birthday, when I didn’t receive consent from my parents to start transitioning, I cried myself to sleep.” In response to the inflexibility of her parents, Leelah came out as gay at school, believing that doing so would soften the effect of living into her true transgender persona. Her strict Christian parents responded by taking her out of public school, depriving her of any means of communicating with the outside world such as her cell phone and her laptop, and put her into virtual isolation for five months. “No friends, no support, no love,” Leelah wrote. “Just my parent’s disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”
When she was finally allowed by her parents to communicate with others and see her one-time friends, Leelah relates that her excitement turned to deeper agony upon finding out that her classmates were little better than acquaintances who cared little for her true self. After a summer of depression, fearing the unknowns of college, grades, enforced attendance at a church where “everyone . . . is against everything I live for,” and what she believed to be the unreachability of transitioning, Leelah gave up hoping anything could get any better for her. “Either I live the rest of my life as a lonely man who wishes he were a woman or I live my life as a lonelier woman who hates herself, “ she wrote. “There’s no winning. There’s no way out. I’m sad enough already, I don’t need my life to get any worse. People say ‘it gets better’ but that isn’t true in my case. It gets worse. Each day I get worse.”
“That’s the gist of it, that’s why I feel like killing myself,” she wrote in an exhausted, heartbreaking coda to her final testament, struggling to explain who she really was by striking out her male birth name in her parting salutation. “Sorry if that’s not a good enough reason for you, it’s good enough for me. As for my will, I want 100% of the things that I legally own to be sold and the money (plus my money in the bank) to be given to trans civil rights movements and support groups, I don’t give a shit which one. The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say ‘that’s fucked up’ and fix it. Fix society. Please.”
Councilman Seelbach prefaced Leelah’s note with an appeal to his Facebook Friends to contribute what they could spare to TransOhio, so that in some measure, Leelah’s last wish that trans civil rights could somehow be advanced thanks to her having lived. Seelbach, the first openly gay Council Member to be elected in Cincinnati, writes: “While Cincinnati led the country this past year as the first city in the mid-west to include transgender inclusive health benefits and we have included gender identity or expression as a protected class for many years….the truth is….it is still extremely difficult to be a transgender young person in this country.
“We have to do better.”
We at the Unfinished Lives Project could not agree more with Councilman Seelbach. Transgender youth in America, especially M to F persons, face unimaginable hurdles in the quest to become who they truly are. Seldom are we invited into the long, punishing agony trans teens endure. Leelah Alcorn died because her parents, her school, her society, and the religious underpinnings of the social and moral system of this country are hostile to non-normative gender identity and variant gender expression. Though she was 17 when she stepped into the path of a hurtling semi truck, she was still a child: vulnerable, confused, and above all, wounded. She took her own life. But she cannot be held responsible for the act that took her life. That indictment falls on a culture and heterosexist system in which we all play a part. LGBTQ and Straight alike. Councilman Seelbach declares what we must all resolve to do. Better. So much better, for the multitudes of youth like Leelah Alcorn who deserve a fair chance at the pursuit of happiness in a land that professes to stand for justice. “We have to do better.” Yes. It’s a matter of life and death that we do. (Thanks to Carmen Saenz, Waco, TX activist, for drawing our attention to this story.)
Rest peacefully, lazerprincess, dear sister.
For any Transgender Young Person struggling with life, and in need of a friendly, non-judgmental voice of help and encouragement, we recommend the Trevor Lifeline, a 24/7 phone service where a real person will answer your call, listen sincerely, and offer real assistance. Free call, 1-866-488-7386. Call. Text. Now.
Manila, Republic of the Philippines – A United States Marine has been formally charged with the October murder of a transgender Filipina, according to The Washington Post. Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, 19, had “probable cause” and employed “treachery, abuse of superior authority and cruelty” against his victim, Jennifer Laude, lead prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos said in a televised statement. Ms. Laude’s body was found naked with her head submerged in a toilet. “You can see the kind of cruelty she endured, the injuries she sustained,” de los Santos said. “We believe we have a strong case.”
Pfc. Pemberton, who was identified in a line up by two witnesses, will not be allowed to post bail.
The murder took place in a flop house hotel in the port city of Olongapo, northwest of Manila. The police autopsy concluded that Ms. Laude died of “asphyxia from drowning.” Filipino Transgender Rights Advocates are calling the killing “a hate crime,” according to USA Today, among them Gender Proud and the Asia and Pacific Transgender Network. The attorney for the family, Henry Roque, concurred. “This is not an ordinary murder. This is heinous because she was beaten up,” he said.
The evening of October 12, Pemberton and other Marines went to a disco bar and picked up partners for the night. Lance Corporal Jairn Michael Rose, who had accompanied Pemberton at the start of the evening, testified that upon return to the ship, Pemberton confided to him that he had strangled his date when he found out she was transgender. Rose is quoted by the Associated Press as saying Pemberton admitted, “I think I killed a he/she.”
Prosecutors say that Pemberton, an accomplished boxer, said that he had choked Laude from behind “for a couple of minutes,” and when she stopped moving, he dragged her body into the bathroom.
The alleged murder comes at a particularly delicate time in regard to charges brought against U.S. military personnel for attacks on Philippine nationals. The United States is seeking renewed and strengthened ties with the Philippines as the allies try to counter Chinese incursions in the South China Sea. A recently signed defense accord allows the U.S. military greater access to Filipino military bases.
Pemberton was part of 3,500 U.S. Marines brought to the massive Subic Bay Naval Station to participate in military exercises with the Philippine military. He was held aboard a U.S. Navy ship until massive anti-American protests prompted U.S. officials to transfer him to Philippine soil to the main base of the Philippine military in metro Manila, but still in American custody. The Foreign Ministry of the Philippine government issued a statement saying that they look “forward to the full cooperation of the U.S. government in ensuring that justice is secured for Laude.”
Washington, DC – The Federal Bureau of Investigation has issued its 2013 hate crimes statistics today: Hate Crime Statistics, 2013, the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program’s first publication to present data collected under the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crime Prevention Act of 2009. A snapshot of the findings may be garnered from the press release that may be accessed here. Hate Crimes against persons because of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender non-conformity comprised over one fifth of the total. 20.2 percent were targeted because of anti-sexual orientation bias, 0.3 percent for anti-gender bias, and 0.5 percent for anti-gender identity bias. 1,461 persons were victimized because of bias against sexual orientation.
To be a gay man, or to be perceived as a gay man, remains the most dangerous sexual orientation identification in the United States. 60.9 percent were victims of crimes motivated by their offenders’ anti-gay (male) bias. 22.5 percent were victims of anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (mixed group) bias. 13.1 percent were victims of anti-lesbian bias. 1.8 percent were victims of anti-bisexual bias. 1.6 percent were victims of anti-heterosexual bias.
Anti-sexual orientation hate crimes add up to the second largest hate crime category reported by the FBI this year. First in number are anti-racial hate crimes, and third in number are hate crimes based on antipathy of one’s religion. A staggering 7,242 persons in the United States were victims of hate crimes last year. Five murders and 21 rapes (15 from agencies that collected data using the revised rape definition and 6 from agencies that used the legacy definition) were reported as hate crimes. While FBI data are collected from cooperating law enforcement agencies around the country, most experts agree that the numbers of hate crimes reported are a severe undercount.
Most hate crime incidents (31.5 percent) occurred in or near residences/homes. More than 18 percent (18.1) occurred on highways/roads/alleys/streets/sidewalks; 8.3 percent occurred at schools/colleges; 5.7 percent happened at parking/drop lots/garages; and 3.5 percent took place in churches/synagogues/temples/mosques. The location was considered other/unknown for 13.2 percent of hate crime incidents. The remainder of hate crime incidents took place at other specified or multiple locations.
The complete FBI report may be accessed here, complete with tables and commentary.
Dallas, Texas – An amateur blogsite sparking interest and conversation on hate crimes perpetrated against LGBTQ people has broken through the 600,000 visitor mark this month! The 600k mark was crossed on Wednesday, October 15. Unfinished Lives Blog, established in 2008 by a Baptist theologian and divinity school professor to keep the stories of LGBTQ hate crimes victims before the public, has touched many more people across the globe than its originator could have imagined six years ago. Dr. Stephen V. Sprinkle, the author of Unfinished Lives: Reviving the Memories of LGBTQ Hate Crimes Victims (Resource Publications, 2011), and a Professor of Practical Theology at Brite Divinity School of Fort Worth, Texas, said, “This blog was and remains to be a labor of love done on a part-time basis. It is breathtaking to me how many people around the world have been touched by this site.” In response to the question of where the emphasis for the Unfinished Lives Project will be going in the future, Sprinkle said, “We will be lifting up more international stories of queer folk struggling to live securely and safely internationally. Human rights is a world-wide issue. At the same time, our primary focus will be the United States, where the murders of people in the sexual minority, especially gay men and transgender people of color, have hit historic high rates.”
At this milestone, the Unfinished Lives Project Team, along with Dr. Sprinkle, invite their readers and supporters to revisit the original purpose of the blog:
“The Unfinished Lives Project website is a place of public discourse which remembers and honors LGBTQ hate crime victims, while also revealing the reality of unseen violence perpetrated against people whose only “offense” is their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender presentation. LGBTQ people in the United States are suffering a slow-rolling decimation of terror and murder all across the country. Every locale and demographic of society are affected: First Nations, Anglo, Black, Latino and Latina, South and Southeast Asian, Transgender, Bisexuals, Gay men, Lesbians, disabled, young, and mature. Homophobia has a long, crooked arm, and it is reaching out to snatch the life away from women and men whose tragic stories are under-reported to begin with, and whose memories are swiftly forgotten.
“The horror of these killings transcends the shock and bereavement of loved ones and friends. These are not typical homicides; they are not killings for money or drugs, incidents of domestic strife, or crimes of passion. The vicious nature of hate crimes against LGBTQ persons is extremely brutal, grotesquely violent, and egregiously hateful.
“Each murder serves the LGBTQ population as a sobering warning about the actual level of danger in our communities. The message these killings send is that freedom and open life for LGBTQ people is a cruel dream. Every time we remember one of these victims, however, the intentions of their killers are frustrated. To remember these women and men is to begin the process of changing the culture that killed them.”
Dr. Sprinkle shared that Unfinished Lives Blog has been shared throughout the Human Rights activist and LGBTQ communities, and is a resource in several cases for academic classes dealing with ethics, sexual minority issues, and LGBTQ literature and history. This milestone is a chance for the creators of the blogsite, as well as many others who labor for the cessation of all bias motivated violent crimes against marginalized people, to rededicate themselves to the work of justice for all people.
“Thank you to the hundreds of thousands of loyal readers, followers, and supporters of this work of love and justice!” ~ The Unfinished Lives Project Team
Sacramento, California – The Golden State has outlawed the notorious “gay panic defense” as an excuse for violence against the sexual minority. Defendants in California can no longer claim their deeds of physical harm against gay and transgender victims were triggered by alarm at a person’s sexual orientation or gender expression. Governor Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law on September 27.
As Gay Star News reports, Rick Zbur, Equality California Executive Director, said in a statement to the press on Sunday, “The ‘panic defense’ is a homophobic and transphobic ploy that blames the victims of horrific acts of violence for the crimes committed against them.” Zbur went on to commend Governor Brown for signing the bill making this infamous legal dodge based on fear illegal: “[Such a ploy] has no place in California’s legal system, and we applaud Gov. Brown for signing this groundbreaking, first-in-the-nation legislation.”
The law, according to California Legislative Information, entitled “AB-2501 Voluntary manslaughter,” now bans the excuse from use in California courts that “the victim made an unwanted non-forcible romantic or sexual advance towards the defendant” or “the defendant and victim dated or had a romantic or sexual relationship.”
Some defendants in horrendous cases of physical violence against transgender or gay/lesbian victims succeeded in playing upon the fears and latent biases of juries with the gay panic defense, and winning lesser sentences and penalties from the courts as a result. The most widely covered California case in which the gay panic defense was effective in reducing a sentence was the execution-style gunshot murder of teen ager Larry Fobes King of Oxnard by his teen age classmate, Brandon McInerney. In the 2011 trial, defense attorneys argued that the real offender was the murdered King, who allegedly flirted with McInerney, a youth who had been deeply influenced by Neo-Nazi ideologies and prejudices. The court reduced McInerney’s charges to second-degree murder and voluntary manslaughter after trying him as a juvenile, in contravention of California law that clearly mandated McInterney, though a teen, must be tried as an adult because of the heinous nature of the crime, and the premeditation exhibited in King’s execution in their morning computer classroom. King was, of course, unable to defend himself against the charges and allegations made by defense attorneys, since he was dead and buried. Because of a plea bargain deal, McInerney received a 21-year sentence instead of a longer, more appropriate term, solely because of the gay panic defense.
Reflecting on the King/McInerney case, SF Weekly carried an op-ed article arguing that “It’s a heinous defense tactic that banks on a judge or jury’s own homophobia, apportioning some blame onto victims in order to get a murder charge downgraded to manslaughter. Leaning on a ‘heat of passion’ line of thinking deliberately turns a trial into something out of a pulp novel. Gay panic benefits from anti-LGBT bias, and adds to it as well, by dredging up ancient stereotypes of gays as sexual predators who can’t be trusted not to curb their appetites.”
Now, such legal queer-baiting is out of bounds in California and has become a model for other states to emulate.
Baltimore, Maryland – The discovery of the body of Mia Henderson, slain transgender woman of color, in Northwest Baltimore signals an alarming increase in the numbers of violent attacks on gender variant and transgender persons. The National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) and TransGriot, a blog dedicated to raising issues pertinent to the African American transgender community, note that Ms. Henderson’s murder this week is the fifth report of a trans person murdered since June nationally, and the second for Baltimore during the same time span.
Henderson, 26, the sibling of NBA star Reggie Bullock of the Los Angeles Clippers, was found dead in an alley Wednesday morning. Gay Star News reports that her body had suffered “severe trauma,” according to Baltimore Police Department sources, resembling the savagery that took the life of Kandy Hall, 40, in early June, also in Baltimore. No suspects have yet been identified in either of the homicide investigations.
The most recent annual NCAVP report on anti-LGBTQ violence in the United States signals a troubling spike in the number of violent attacks on transgender persons, especially male to female transgender women (M to F), and persons of color. The 2013 report details that “almost three quarters (72%) of [LGBTQ] homicide victims were transgender women, and more than two-thirds (67%) of homicide victims were transgender women of color, yet transgender survivors and victims only represent 13% of total reports to NCAVP.” The report goes on to say that transgender victims are more at risk of injuries, and ethnic/racial minority transgender persons were more likely to be harmed in shelters than the population at large. From the report: “Transgender men were 1.5 times more likely to experience injuries as a result of hate violence and 4.3 times more likely to be the target of hate violence in shelters when compared with other survivors. Transgender people of color were 1.8 times more likely to experience hate violence in shelters.”
New York, New York – Violence against LGBTQ people soared beyond 2,000 reported incidents in 2013, according the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. Statistics released in the NCAVP annual report on Thursday showed queer folk living at the intersection of homophobia and other forms of discrimination such as race, gender, and citizenship status are most at risk of being targeted for harm in the United States.
The Advocate reports that the level of violence remains consistent with 2012’s statistics, varying little in either direction–still registering one of the highest numbers of anti-LGBTQ violent crimes since the NCAVP has kept records. For example, though the number of murders of LGBTQ people fell to 18 reported homicides in 2013 from the all-time high of 25 in 2012, those most likely to die because of their sexual orientation, gender expression, or gender identity were people of color and transgender women. 89 percent of the victims were people of color, and 72 percent were transgender women. “What emerges clearly in the findings of this year’s report is that many of the people at risk for the most severe hate violence are at the intersection of multiple forms of oppression and discrimination including racism and citizenship status,” said Aaron Eckhardt of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Region. “Anti-LGBTQ hate violence can no longer be viewed in isolation from other forms of violence that our community members are experiencing based on their identities.”
Generally speaking, the NCAVP Report shows:
- A substantial increase in the severity of the violence reported against LGBTQ people
- Transgender people, especially transgender women, undocumented people, racial and ethnic minority people, and gay men face the most savage violence
- Transgender women, people of color, and gay men face the greatest risk of hate crime murder
- While danger from bias driven violence is still a public matter for many, occurring in the streets of our cities, other places once thought to be “safe” have begun to show alarming increases in attacks, such as private residences, workplaces, and shelters
- Fewer victims of anti-LGBTQ violence are reporting crimes to the police, and those who do report increased hostility toward them by the very law enforcement organizations pledged to protect them
On this final alarming finding, Christopher Argyros of the Anti-Violence Project of the Los Angeles LGBT Center says, “For some of our most impacted communities, especially transgender people and transgender people of color, the hostility and violence faced at the hands of the police [when they do report crimes] is at an alarming level.”
These statistics should be read in the context of a severe undercount of bias driven violent crimes against all those living at the intersection of anti-LGBTQ and other minority forms of discrimination. Every agency and expert charged with reporting the number of hate crimes against the queer community in the United States, including the FBI, acknowledges that the statistics on report are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the actual experiences of violence against LGBTQ people. For example, the current NCAVP annual report, Hate Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer and HIV-Affected Communities in the United States in 2013, recognized as the most comprehensive snapshot of anti-LGBTQ violence in existence, is based on data from no more than 14 anti-violence programs in 13 states across the country and Puerto Rico. States reporting were: Ohio, Illinois, Colorado, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, New York, Vermont, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, Minnesota, and Arizona. Reportage is voluntary, with many law enforcement organizations neglecting to report anything, either from bias, apathy, lack of funds to do so, or a combination of these passive aggressive motives.