by Miranda Stevens-Miller
This report is dedicated to the memory of Baretta Williams. Just 26 years old when she was murdered, this beautiful young woman was just pulling her life together. She had a chance to make it in the world. After struggling her entire short life with her gender identity, she had been able to overcome obstacles that most people cannot imagine dealing with being gender different in a prejudiced society.
When she was shot over and over and over again, 16 times, it was not even worth a mention in the newspapers. No one cared about the beautiful person she was. No one cared that she was pulling her life together. No one cared that she was full of vitality, full of love and laughter, full of hope for the future. No one cared. This report is testimony that we care about Baretta Williams.
We are seeking reform in human rights legislation so that the law recognizes and protects a heretofore invisible segment of the population. Gender different people have been so marginalized and stereotyped by society that most are forced to hide, living in fear of rejection by their families and friends, fear of loss of their jobs and apartments, fear of their lives as they walk down the street.
What is the connection between discrimination and hate crimes? Why is Baretta Williams' murder highlighted in the dedication of a report whose stated purpose is to provide background for the legislative process to amend human rights laws? Because there is no differences between discrimination and hate crimes. Both acts result from the failure to recognize the basic humanity of the victim.
Hate crimes are the logical end point in a society that tolerates discrimination against any class of individuals. As long as popular television talk show hosts can portray gender variant people as outrageously ridiculous freaks, as long as news media continues to misrepresent who we really are, as long as teachers look the other way when school children call their classmates "faggot" or "sissy", as long as it's okay to fire a woman who is "too masculine", then murders of young transgender women will continue to be given tacit approval by our society.
It's time to say enough hatred already. Let's end the discrimination. Let's send a message to society that we do not give permission to commit hate crimes and murder.
This report is the 5th annual compilation of stories of injustice, hatred, and bigotry that has gone unpunished in the State of Illinois. It's Time, Illinois has been documenting cases of discrimination against gender variant people since 1996. Copies of the earlier reports are available upon request.
The cases of discrimination and hate crimes that we reported over the years are based on perception of gender variance. This term refers to gender roles and the expectations that go along with those roles. Everyone has a gender identity, which can lean more to the masculine, the feminine, or some place in between. Gender identity determines how an individual presents to the world, i.e. gender expression, as well as other characteristics and behaviors. Gender role expectations are culturally determined. Those who fall outside of these unwritten guidelines are at risk of being discriminated against because of gender variance.
In this remarkable series of documents, we have attempted to bring a human face to the cold statistics which mask the real damage which is done when someone is fired, denied housing, refused access, publicly humiliated, assaulted, raped, or even killed simply because of their gender. When you look beyond the surface, you will find that the cases in these reports are the stories of real people with real lives. What happened to them could happen to any one of you.
Originally our documentation covered only transgendered people. This term refers to those individuals who live some or all of their lives in a gender opposite to their birth gender. As we looked deeper at the root causes of the discrimination, we found that gender variance went well beyond the transgender community. We have documented cases of discrimination against individuals who do not identify as transgendered. Men who are perceived as being "too feminine" or women who are perceived as being "too masculine" are at risk.
Men and women, gay or straight, are often perceived as gay or lesbian because of gender-based cues. One third of gays and lesbians discriminated against in employment situations can link that bias directly to their gender expression or characteristics. Often an assailant looking for a likely gay or lesbian target, will identify his victim for a hate crime based on gender variance.
Currently, discrimination based on gender variance is legal in Illinois. You have the power to change those laws. You have the power to make our lives better or break them.
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First The Good News
There were some very positive steps which took place in 1999 that demonstrated commitment to protecting the rights of gender variant people. First there were the transgender supportive resolutions passed unanimously first by Chicago's Advisory Council on Gay and Lesbian Issues, and later by the entire Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Another significant act was the commitment of Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, from the 9th Congressional District, to include gender self-image and identity in her office nondiscrimination policy. And finally, there was the broad coalition of local community organizations that signed on to support inclusion of gender variant people in the federal Employment Nondiscrimination Act. (See appendix)
There were also some difficulties. For example, a nondiscrimination bill was introduced in the Illinois House of Representatives early in February 1999 by State Rep. Larry McKeon. The bill would have added sexual orientation and gender identity to the Illinois Human Rights Act. Both fell under the definition of sexual orientation which had been suggested by It's Time Illinois, the same definition that had been used successfully in Evanston and in Minnesota. The bill ran into trouble in March 1999 when it was brought to the floor for a vote, and it failed by 3 votes. Several of those voting for the bill changed their vote at the last minute when it appeared that the bill would not pass. Although the bill was kept alive by a parliamentary procedure, we have never been able to get the solid votes we need to pass House Bill 474.
It was definitely a year of education and coalition building. It's Time, Illinois received a "Freedom Award" from the Illinois Federation for Human Rights (now Equality Illinois) for work on the Evanston Human Rights Ordinance. It's Time Illinois was one of the three sponsoring organizations of Illinois Equality Begins at Home, a week of GLBT awareness-building activities all over the state, with more events than any other state. Representatives of It's Time, Illinois spoke on gender variance and inclusion at events over the year that reached tens of thousands of people. From dozens of college campuses, to conferences, to rallies, to debates, to radio shows all over the country. We tackled the tough issues, and our voices were heard.
Last year, It's Time Illinois' 4th Annual Report on Hate Crimes and Discrimination, was distributed in person to the offices of every Illinois Representative and Senator. It was also distributed to the members of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Projects and many other organizations. Awareness of the injustices against gender variant people is definitely growing.
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And Now The Bad News
This year we have documented more cases of discrimination and hate crimes against gender variant people in Illinois than ever before. In this report are 24 cases, which is twice the number we have reported in any of our previous reports. These cases cover the categories of employment (9 cases), public accommodations (4 cases), civil rights violations (5 cases), and hate crimes (6 cases).
More disturbing than the cases that we documented are those that are not recorded in this report. Our sources of information include calls placed directly to the It's Time, Illinois hotline, the complaints registered with the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, Horizons Community Services Anti-Violence Project, and other miscellaneous sources. These are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the people who have suffered discrimination do not know about the It's Time, Illinois documentation project, or other resources which are available.
Since there is no state law protecting gender variant people, the Illinois Department of Human Rights does not keep records of complaints of discrimination which may have been based on gender variance. The same is true of the Cook County Human Rights Commission and the Chicago Commission on Human Relations. Both Cook County and Chicago will take complaints when registered, but most people do not bother since they know that neither of these jurisdictions have ordinances that protect gender variant people.
Over the past 5 years we have documented 66 cases. Since many of these cases include multiple elements of discrimination, the total number of incidents that we have recorded is 78.
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Geographic Distribution of Cases
Most of the cases are in Chicago and Cook County. For whatever reason, over 85% of the cases we have documented occurred in Cook County. The obvious reason is that we are based in Cook County (Oak Park), hold our meetings alternating between Oak Park and Chicago, and are most active in our outreach in the Chicago metropolitan area. Chicago and Cook County represent about 45% of the population of Illinois. If we assume that discrimination is distributed according to population, then we are missing about half of the reportable incidents simply because we are not as easily accessible or known in the rest of the State of Illinois. The other cases we have documented are distributed in DuPage, Kane, Knox, Lake, LaSalle, Lee, and McHenry counties.
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Employment Discrimination Is Most Prevalent
Employment discrimination cases consistently have been the most prevalent type of discrimination which we have documented. Typically about 40% of the cases involve an employment situation. In 1999, there were 9 cases of employment discrimination out of the 24 total cases, or 37.5%. Over the past 5 years, 42.3% have been employment cases.
There are three forms that the discrimination typically takes: the individual is fired, not hired, or harassed. Typically the individual is systematically harassed before being fired or constructively discharged.
The harassment of a transgender person usually takes the form of the employer or coworkers refusing to acknowledge the individual's gender. Typically, the person is denied access to the appropriate rest room. Or the supervisor consistently calls the person by the wrong name, or uses the wrong pronouns when referring to the person.
Harassment of a gender variant person who does not identify as transgender usually takes the form of jokes at the person's expense, name calling, inappropriate touching, suggestive language, and so forth. Typically the employer is a willing participant in the harassment.
Termination of the employee usually occurs after a period of several months to about two years of consistent harassment. In none of the cases that we documented could we find evidence for any motive for firing other than bias against the individual's gender identity, characteristics, or expression. Many of the people who were fired had outstanding performance records, going back for years. In one case, the individual who was forced to resign had been with the organization for 35 years, and had risen to the position of Board President.
Employment discrimination affects all gender variant people. Although most of the cases involve transgendered people, over one third of the cases were not.
In most of the cases of gay males or lesbians who were discriminated against, they were severely verbally harassed prior to being fired. In one case, the individual was demoted, moved to a different location, denied pay, and eventually fired. The verbal harassment typically takes the form of gender slurs. Since most of the employers and coworkers do not know the sexual orientation of the individual, they are reacting to gender variant cues to give them the perception of a gay or lesbian sexual orientation. But the nature of the verbal harassment is very indicative of the role of gender in the discrimination.
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We have documented 14 cases of discrimination in a public accommodation. These include denial of access to a library, school, or nightclub; neglect or refusal of treatment by medical professionals; and police indifference. A number of these incidents occurred in conjunction with a hate crime, and the crime was just compounded by the indifference of the very people who could be and should be helping the victim.
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Although we do occasionally get a case of housing discrimination to document, these are relatively rare. We have documented 4 cases. In two of the cases, the individual was evicted. In another case, the person is having trouble finding someone to rent to her. An in the last case, an individual working with the housing authority was making it difficult for a transgender person to rent housing. Presently we do not have enough of these cases to draw any conclusions.
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Civil Rights Violations
Included in the category of civil rights violations are all cases in which the complainants' freedoms were severely restricted or ignored by a public or private agency. Examples from this year's report include abuse of a transsexual woman by prison guards and her parole officer, unnecessary confinement and aversive therapy in a psychiatric hospital, and false arrest by police.
Over the past 5 years we have documented 12 cases of civil rights violations. Undoubtedly there are more, and many of the elements of the public accommodations discrimination cases could be interpreted as civil rights violations. We have reserved this classification for those cases which involve police, confinement without cause or consent, or physical abuse. The results of these cases range all the way from indifference, to torture, to death. Some cases had multiple violations within them.
Particularly disturbing in this year's report are the numerous incidents of young gender variant people, ages 14 to 18, who were confined in psychiatric hospitals for "treatment" of gender dysphoria. The latter is the term which is found in the American Psychiatric Association's (APA) diagnostic manual (DSM-IV). The diagnosis of gender dysphoria had been used to subject gender variant children to reparative therapy, which includes electroshock treatment. Although the use of this diagnosis to condition young gay and lesbian children has been repudiated by the APA, we have found that it is still being used in the Chicago metropolitan area to torture gender variant children.
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In this year's report, we have documented some of the most violent hate crimes we have seen. Rape, murder, assault with deadly weapons were all part of the cases documented this year. We have documented 15 hate crimes between 1995 and 1999, involving 19 separate incidents.
The murder of Baretta Williams, one of the most brutal overkill murders that we have ever recorded, and the vicious shooting of her friend in Ms. Williams' apartment, occurred in 1999. These were two beautiful young transgender women in their early 20's. Ms. Williams' friend was visiting Chicago from her home in Oregon. They were both preparing for a prestigious beauty pageant which is held each year in Chicago. Baretta Williams was shot 16 times at close range by assailants who broke into her apartment for the purpose of committing a hate crime. Her friend was shot 3 times, twice in the face, and left for dead. She was hospitalized for about 2 months before returning home. Her face is so damaged that she still cannot keep liquids in her mouth.
A few years ago, the same thing
happened to Christian Paige in Chicago. She had been brutally
beaten about the head and ears, then strangled, and finally stabbed
deeply in her chest and breast area between 15 and 2 dozen times.
Then prior to fleeing the scene, her assailant set fire to the apartment only a few feet from her prostrate body, apparently in an attempt to destroy evidence. Her body had been so savagely assaulted that some friends at first believed she had been deliberately mutilated.
We have documented 3 murders of transgendered women in Chicago since we began the documentation project in 1995. The incidents that happened in Chicago are not isolated incidents. Nationally it was a very bad year for violence against transgendered people, with a murder occurring about once every month. In the eight months between the well-publicized murders of Matthew Shepard and Billy Jack Gaither, there were at least eight equally gruesome murders of transgendered people. One murder per month. There is a war going on against the transgender community.
Most of the transgendered victims were of lower socioeconomic class. Somehow these two factors, poor and transgender, diminished the humanity of the victims in the eyes of the media. With few exceptions, these murders were not considered newsworthy. When the stories were covered, transgender people were ridiculed with cartoons and dismissed with demeaning stereotypes. We are the new disposable people.
Tasha Dunn, Vianna Faye Williams, Fitzroy Green, Chanel Chandler, Rita Hester, Steve Dwayne Garcia, Lauryn Paige, Tracey Thompson, and now Barretta Williams. All within a year. In fact, all within the year after Matthew Shepard was lynched.
Vernita Gray, of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office, has often said that the most gruesome hate crimes, overkill murders, are often carried out against transgender victims. Many of the victims of anti-gay or lesbian hate crimes were singled out because of their gender expression.
Gender variant people are very visible targets for those who are looking to inflict their hatred on innocent people. Gender variant people often draw the attention of homophobic assailants looking for a gay or lesbian person to attack. Gender variant people are at constant risk of hate crimes unless they can blend in perfectly, and not be detected or discovered.
Beyond the gender variant community, it was a bad year for hate crimes in general. From the killing of Ricky Byrdsong and the shooting of Orthodox Jews in Skokie, to the dragging death of James Byrd in Texas and the attacks on the synagogues in California, it was a very bad year.