Young people of color who don’t conform to gender norms are more
likely to be target of violent hate crimes, report shows
A new report issued by the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition documents a tide of murderous violence against gender nonconformists in the United States over the last decade, according to Riki Wilchins, GenderPAC’s executive director and author of the report.
“If the FBI was mandated to track hate crimes based on an individual’s gender identity or gender expression, which they are not, it would outweigh every other category except rape. This is a big, big problem,” Wilchins said.
One such murder occurs every two to three months, according to the report, titled “50 Under 30: Masculinity and the War on America’s Youth,” which was released Dec. 14 at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Wilchins said she believes the report undercounts “effeminate gay men who were targeted because they weren’t being masculine enough and butch women who were targeted because they were not being femme enough.”
The report shows there is a strong commonality in most violence based on gender nonconformity. “It is consistent in method and precise in target,” with roughly 90 percent of the victims being biological males who “transgressed gender in some profound way,” who were people of color, who identified as gay or transgender and who were killed by persons about their own age.
In about 75 percent of the murders included in the report, it was not a random bullying that grew out of control, Wilchins said, adding, “These are crimes of murderous violence that are meant to annihilate the victim. In one of these cases a young woman who was transitioning was stabbed almost 60 times. She was then almost decapitated.”
All of the known assailants are young men. But the rate of closure on these cases is low, often because the police do not give them their full attention, Wilchins said. Most are not categorized as hate crimes, even when there is every indication that they should be, and most are not covered in the mainstream press, the report showed. “There seems to be a unique nexus of vulnerability at the intersection of age, race, gender nonconformity and economic status. Most of these kids are from economically challenged homes or communities,” she said.
“We know that youth, and particularly youth of color, are much less likely to have the social capital to get authorities to protect them or to assure their own safety. These kids often are more exposed,” Wilchins said. “When you cross gender lines you seem to invoke a gut level hatred, this desire to annihilate. profound hostility and rage. I’d be lying if I said we understand it. There is something out there about gender that is very, very angry, and very, very violent, and is willing to kill to maintain gender boundaries.” And, Wilchins noted, “If you add to that additional factors that make you a disfavored American you are of color, economically challenged, young it becomes exponentially more likely that you are going to become the target of an attack.”
Queen Washington spoke at the press conference about her experience as the mother of Stephanie Thomas, a 19-year-old transgender woman who was “assassinated along with her best friend” in August 2002, in Washington, D.C.
Washington recounted the journey she had taken with Stephanie in coming to terms with her son being transgender: “I told her, God hates a liar,” so be true to yourself, she said. “I had to be there with her. Along the way, I had to fight the schools. I had to fight the businesses. I had to fight the neighbors. My child was a human being first,” Washington said.
Stephanie and her friend, another young transgender woman, died in a hail of bullets while sitting in a car a few blocks from home. After four years, the case remains unsolved. Washington said the police lied to her repeatedly, and she feels they did not adequately investigate the case.
According to Mark K. Bromley, director of external relations and policy for Global Rights, “There is no doubt that this is a human rights issue.” Bromley said the violence demonstrates “a consistent pattern of failure to protect an at risk community,” and that his organization has brought it to the attention of the United Nations Committee on Human Rights.
Wilchins said police resources have a lot to do with solving crimes, and that police often are less likely to aggressively pursue a case with “particularly unsympathetic victims.”
She said GenderPAC hopes the report will help to raise awareness of the problems among legislators, public policy makers and civil rights leaders. It is the start of an educational effort to stop the violence, she said.
Wilchins said GenderPAC and its allies also are pressing for inclusion of gender identity in federal hate crimes legislation so that the crimes can be better tracked and resources better directed toward solving these cases.
The full report is available online at http://www.gpac.org/50under30/
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 19, 2007