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Recent Transgender Crime Cases Spark Outrage

by April Ingram Sunday, Jan. 16, 2005 at 12:35 AM

Transgender crime is among the most violent. Bias toward transgenders continue with the way the crimes are reported.

“Crimes against transgenders are the most violent,” said Shirley Bushnell, chair of the City of West Hollywood Transgender Task Force. “Most crimes against transgender people involve a gun, knife or bat.”

Despite the brutality of the crimes against transgender people, those charged with these crimes are not perceived to be a great threat to society. One prime example of this is the mistrial in the Gwen Araujo murder, which resulted because of a hung jury on June 22nd of last year. In October 2002, Araujo was punched against a wall, beaten repeatedly, strangled, beaten with a shovel, tied up, and then placed in the back of a truck to ride to a shallow grave four hours away. The jury deadlocked on three men charged with her murder. A fourth man, who testified against the others, pleaded guilty to manslaughter. The case is scheduled to be retried in May of this year.

Very little is mentioned about loss of life when it involves someone who is transgender. Just before the New Year began, a transwoman was allegedly shot by an off-duty Marine. Police say the Marine fled from them and then pointed a gun, resulting in his own shooting death. The Los Angeles Times article dated December 27 quotes the police officer as saying, “It's a sad situation," said Los Angeles Police Department Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell. "Here's a guy who had his life ahead of him and in a very short period of time threw it all away." There was no mention of sympathy for the transgender victim.

Another transgender woman, Bella Martinez, was shot dead in her own Los Feliz area apartment in late August, 2004. Since there was no forced entry, it is probable that Martinez knew the gunman. To date, the crime remains unsolved. The police did not distribute any fliers in the neighborhood to ask for information, as they often do in 'straight' crimes. A popular coffee house is located just down the street from her apartment, which could have been a good place to post such a flier.

Reporting of transgender crime victims often is not handled with care. The Times article called the transgender woman a prostitute, without mentioning who said it. Carolina Charm, one of the task force members asks, in response to the article, “How did the police know she was a prostitute? Is that what the Marine told them? If so, it should have been mentioned in the news article. Calling someone a prostitute without any proof could be libelous.”

The Transgender Task force, an advocacy group for transgender equality, trains police personnel on how to report transgender crimes. This is more difficult than it sounds. Officers are confronted with having only two options, male or female, when indicating the gender when they file police reports. Some crime suspects and crime victims may appear of ambiguous gender. How an officer reports a transgender-related crime will filtered down to news media reporters, who often rely on police reports and quotes from police officers in their articles. This in turn, is read by the public, many of whom only know of trangenders by reading news articles or watching sensational television shows like Jerry Springer.

“Many people do not know the definition of gender,” says Shirley Bushnell. This is of concern because it is this definition that determines what restroom a transgender person can use, what nursing home a transgender senior is assigned to, what locker room a transgender athlete can use. This not only affects the transgendered individual but also affects those who must share the same space.

Bushnell added that California law was amended recently to redefine gender in terms of how the persons feel and present themselves in public, as opposed to the genitalia they were born with.

Public agencies have responded by allowing space for additional comments when marking gender on a preprinted form. Rich Ryan of West Hollywood’s Public Safety Division said that in police reports, a person’s genitalia still define whether an officer checks the M or F box, but there is a space for additional information to comply with gender guidelines.

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