The new Millenium's seventeenth victim murdered in anti-transgender hate-motivated violence was reported just weeks before the Day of Remembrance took place.
Her name was Ana Melisa Cortez. She was stabbed to death in her home in Nashville. She was just 20 years old. A native of Guatemala who came to this country seeking the same freedoms that immigrants have sought for hundreds of years in this country life, liberty, pursuit of happiness. Instead she found hatred, the knife and death waiting for her.
November 28 was the 2nd Annual Day of Remembrance for victims of anti-transgender hate crimes and violence. There were events in about a dozen cities across the country, but sadly not in Chicago or anywhere in the Midwest that I am aware of.
Unfortunately, we are victims of hate crime and violence overload. There is no shortage of violence to protest. With CABN's antiviolence rally in early October, and Horizon's domestic violence speak-out later that same month, the local transgender community leaders opted out of this one. For whatever reason, we just didn't think that we would be able to get the people out for another rally. It's not that we don't care it's frustration from the constant reminder that to the world we are disposable people.
But I know that I was not alone in Chicago spending at least part of the day remembering and reflecting on the toll that hate crimes have taken on our community. Seventeen transgender murders this year! If you go to the "Remembering Our Dead" web site (www.gender.org/remember), Gwen Smith lists them along with about 200 others killed because of their gender identity, characteristics or expression.
The victims they are all so young! Their short lives so difficult. Banished to the dark corners of society, many stigmatized not only by gender but also by race and class.
The numbers by themselves so appalling, but that's only half the story! You see, when one of us dies in a hate crime, we die twice: first the murderer kills our body, then the press kills our identity. Let me explain.
November 28 is the date that Rita Hester was killed two years ago in Boston. Just like Ana Melisa Cortez, she was stabbed to death in a violent overkill hate crime. Stabbing seems to be the accepted way to kill a transperson.
"Remembering Our Dead" quotes Rita Hester's friend, "Everywhere Rita went, people experienced her as an incredible vivacious, outgoing woman." She performed both in transgender-friendly clubs and in straight clubs. "In Boston, she hung out in two different cultures, on opposite sides of town, and she was one of the only links between the two."
But, the press tends to shy away from such humanizing facts about the victims' lives. The victim is almost always dismissed as just a prostitute, a pervert, a transvestite, a man dressed as a woman, a woman posing as a man, whatever. It seems to be all part of the way our society dehumanizes transgender people, so that even in death our identity and dignity is stolen from us.
Rita had lived full-time as a woman for over 10 years. Her friends knew her only as a woman, as Rita. She had no other name. She had breast implants to feminize her body. In other words, she was a transsexual woman. Yet when her death was reported in the papers, they consistently used male pronouns, used her name in quotation marks, "Rita", referred to her as a man. Even the local gay and lesbian paper demeaned her identity by using her former male name instead of Rita.
Another one of the victims this year was dealt the final indignity by her own mother! Tyra Henderson, 22 years old, was murdered in our nation's Capitol on Easter Sunday.
Photo by Israel Wright, Copyright 2000, Lambda Publications,
She was beaten to death and left in an alley in the wee hours of the morning. Her mother insisted that she be buried as a male. Her aunt argued that, since she lived her life as a woman, " to cut her hair and dress her up like a man would be totally disrespectful and wrong." But despite the wishes of the rest of Tyra's family, the mother persuaded the funeral home to cut Tyra's hair into a man's style, and dress her in a man's suit for the viewing and burial.
In another case that occurred a few years ago, the murder of a transsexual man, a friend wrote, "Just seeing the accounts in the newspapers, altering John's life to suit their immediate needs, making him a woman, a lesbian, a masquerader or an it, depending upon the moment, was too much for me. If they could do this to him, years after he dies, what control did I have over my own life?" (From "Remembering Our Dead")
Taken to extreme, this type of systematic stripping of identity has actually allowed killers to get away with murder. For example, Fitzroy Green, a Jamaican native who cross-dressed and engaged in sex work, was stabbed 26 times in the neck and back in 1998. The killer was apprehended and admitted to the stabbing. The victim was portrayed in court as a "deviant sexual predator," implying that Fitzroy deserved to be killed. In the trial earlier this year, the killer was found not guilty and let loose.
How many transpeople need to be killed, how many double murders need to be counted, how long does the "Remember Our Dead" memorial need to grow, how many murderers need to walk, how many identities need to be obliterated, how many deaths before the horror of what is happening in this country strikes home? How many deaths before the genocide of the transgender community is complete?
I don't know where the answer is, but it sure ain't blowin' in the wind.
Published in Windy City Times, December
Copyright 2000 Lambda Publications