Trans activist robbed, beaten in apparent hate crime at Houston Community College

Lance Reyna (Houston Chronicle)

A transgender activist and student at Houston Community College was beaten and robbed at knifepoint Tuesday in what he says was a hate crime, The Houston Chronicle reports.

Lance Reyna, 29, says his attacker uttered a sexual epithet in a “flamboyant,” mocking tone before putting a knife to his throat in a campus bathroom. Reyna is well known on campus as a trans activist. Reyna suffered a concussion and lost his wallet. His credit cards were later used for purchases. The attack occurred days before this weekend’s Houston Pride celebration.

Reyna told the Chronicle he believes the attack should be prosecuted under Texas’ hate crimes law, but there are two problems here. One, the 2001 law doesn’t cover transgender people, and two, aggravated robbery is already a first-degree felony, meaning there is no sentencing enhancement available.

What the Chronicle’s story doesn’t say is that the crime could and should be prosecuted under the federal hate crimes law passed in October. In fact, one of the biggest benefits to the federal law for people in Texas is that it covers trans people, whereas state law does not.

We spoke with Randall Terrell, political director at Equality Texas, about the case this morning. Terrell agreed the case would be difficult to prosecute under state law.

“If the guy believes that any transgender person is also gay and that’s why he attacked, there may be a sexual orientation element in there,” he said. “But if it’s just because of gender identity, it’s going to be hard to prosecute.”

Terrell also agreed that the feds can intervene because the new hate crimes law calls for that when a state lacks jurisdiction, which is the case in Texas when it comes to gender identity. A federal prosecution could carry an additional penalty of up to 10 years in prison.

—  John Wright