O’Connor, Mullinex both fell victim to hate crimes, and now they want to use their experiences to help others
DAVID TAFFET | Staff Writer
Options for victims of hate crimes are limited. But two transgender women who survived life-threatening attacks have the group formed Surviving Hate to try and offer more options for hate-crime survivors who are trying to put their lives back together.
To raise money to launch their group, Dallas filmmaker Israel Luna will screen his film, “Ticked-Off Tr*nnies With Knives,” on July 7 at Studio Movie Grill in North Dallas.
Surviving Hate organizer Maeve O’Connor said there are advocacy groups for hate crime victims, but survivor groups outside of a clinical setting are rare. She said she realized the need for such a group during discussions with Winter
Mullinex, who also lived through a violent attack.
“We realized we were able to empathize with each other about what we went through,” O’Connor said.
The new group is still in the development stage. Their goal, she said, was to empower survivors to live healthy lives. A website where survivors will be able to share their experiences, anonymously if they prefer, should be running next week. O’Connor said they are still creating their board of directors and then will apply for non-profit status.
O’Connor said she hopes this spawns a network of survivor groups across the country.
Surviving Hate will reach beyond the transgender community to help victims of any bias-related violence — whether it was motivated by race, religion, ethnicity or physical disability, as well as sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.
The most recent FBI statistics are for 2008, a year before the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crime law was enacted. Of the 7,780 bias incidents reported for that year, 16.7 percent were based on sexual orientation.
O’Connor believes that some crimes based on gender identity are included in that number, but most have gone unreported. Statistics compiled for the year 2010 — that will not be available until 2012 — will include gender identity and expression as specified in the new law.
Both O’Connor and Mullinex spoke about the crimes that affected their lives. Both were raped, beaten and left for dead. O’Connor said her rapists told her, “You look like a girl. You act like a girl. We’re going to help make you a girl.”
The attack happened 31 years ago when she was 16.
The first reaction is fear, she said, and like many hate crime victims, she did not report the crime. Next, she said, comes shame.
But she said at that age she did not understand gender identity and was not out, she believed the attack happened because of who she really was.
Winter, a survivor of multiple hate crime attacks, was first raped at age 9. She said she understood at the time she was transgender.
Both women said the purpose of their new group is not to wallow in pity. Survivors often think their reactions are unusual, but together victims discover their reactions are quite similar and normal.
The women said the victims are often blamed for bringing on the attack. But the purpose of Surviving Hate is not self-pity or assigning blame.
“How do you thrive?” O’Connor said. “How do you go on with your life? I’ve become successful. I’d like others to do that.”
“I can tell you, 31 years later, you don’t get over it,” she said. “But you do learn to deal with it and put it to the side.”
“When you’re in a victim mindset, you feel powerless,” Mullenix said. “No one lives unscarred, but survivors are empowered and capable of leading a normal life.”
She would like to help hate crime victims move past the fear.
Their goal for survivors seems simple but is something that took both women years to achieve.
“Learn to have healthy, happy relationships and trust again,” Winter said. •
“Ticked Off Tr*nnies with Knives” at Studio Movie Grill, 11170 North Central Expressway. July 7 at 8 p.m. $10. SurvivingHate.org.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition July 02, 2010.