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Hate Crime — An Op Ed

| Feb 25, 2008
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Angela GardnerThere are times when I’m so stunned by the inhumanity of my fellow humans that I have to rouse myself and speak. We have enough of a negative, criminal nature happening on planet Earth every day (Africa and Kosovo are just two examples) that if we weren’t able to tune it out and distance it from our own lives we would have to cry all the time. As I read the New York Times Saturday a story reached out to me from across the country and made me cry.

A fifteen year old boy in Oxnard, California named Lawrence King (photo featured in this week’s TWIT Notes) was shot to death in his school classroom by a 14 year old boy. Lawrence had been coming to school wearing makeup and high heeled boots. He had come out to his classmates as gay, but from our point of view he seems to have been transgendered. His killer walked into the classroom, shot Lawrence in the head and ran out.

This is a tragedy. Not just because a young transgendered person, who was expressing himself openly and had a network of friends and the support of the school administration (they didn’t attempt to bar Lawrence from wearing high heels and makeup) was apparently the victim of a hate crime. This is a tragedy because if this was a hate crime (and not motivated by something else) then a fourteen year old boy felt so threatened and scared by someone’s difference that he felt he had to exterminate the source of the threat. How did this happen? How can anyone be so frightened of difference that they strike out and kill?

Many people on this planet have a problem with sex. It’s no secret that anything that hints of sex and sexuality can’t be discussed in an open, honest way. As children we learn that sex is “dirty.” We’re taught to snicker and point if we see some friends who have been kissing or holding hands. If a boy wants to wear girl clothes it’s expressing something about that boy’s sexuality and it’s unhealthy, weird, just plain perverted.

Well –”it’s not. It’s not perverted, it’s not unhealthy and it’s not contagious. Lawrence King’s killer had no reason to fear Lawrence. Or, did the boy who pulled the trigger find Lawrence attractive? Is that the nature of the threat that caused the boy to kill? Right now we don’t know. The investigation is underway. There will be plenty of time for the authorities to determine the underlying causes.

The killer, who is in custody, will be tried as an adult and faces a sentence of 52 years in prison.

Everyday when we go out into society and wear the clothes we want to wear, when we express ourselves openly as did Lawrence King, we walk through a silent (for the most part) society that sees us and reacts. The vast majority of the reaction has become benign over the past couple of decades (in many places). Most people are not threatened by a man dressed as a woman or by some other gender variant person. Most people, even if they are disgusted by something they see as wrong, won’t take violent steps. Progress toward human rights has been made for GLBT people. But, as long as our society can raise anyone who feels that being GLBT is perverted, unhealthy, an unforgivable sin — something that makes a violent, lethal reaction justified — then we’re not the greatest society on the planet. We’ve got some work to do.

Democratic candidates are running for the office of President on a platform of change. Among the thousands of necessary changes we need to include a change in the way we encourage negative ideas about difference. We need to get to the core of the reasons people hate and strike out at those who are different. Can we do it? We’ve made a lot of progress but the murder of Lawrence King is the most recent proof that we’re not there yet.

What can we do?

We can be who we are and take every opportunity to interact with others in a normal way. The more transgendered people are seen out and about in society the more we are just part of the landscape and our acceptance by the public will do more to ease hate than any hate crime legislation. Let the world know we are here. Be responsible, be alert and don’t take unnecessary chances but be there — at the bar, in the store, on the street.

And, mourn the loss of Lawrence King — our TG sister — and remember all the others, GLBT and straight, black and brown, foreign and odd who have been killed for “not being one of us,” for being different. That’s not an excuse for stealing someone’s life.


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Category: Transgender Opinion

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About the Author ()

Angela Gardner is a founding member of The Renaissance Transgender Association, Inc., the former editor of that organization's newsletter and magazine, Transgender Community News. She wrote the Diva of Dish column for TGF in the late 1990s and was the Editor of LadyLike magazine until its untimely demise. She is currently the Editor of TGF. She has appeared in film and television shows portraying TG characters, as well as representing Renaissance on numerous talk shows. In her idle hours she keeps busy producing her monthly TG parties, Angela's Laptop Lounge.

Comments (4)

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  1. angela_g angela_g says:

    Linda, Linda, Linda, what I’m saying is that police departments have had a tendency in the past and in some areas to say, whether the victim is TG or some other kind of minority, “Oh it’s just a…” and close the case without a through investigation. Yes, because the law says murder is a crime and it doesn’t matter who or what your victim is you should be caught, prosecuted and punished but crimes against minorities have not been solved because law enforcement could write it off as something of little importance to the upstanding citizens. All victims of crime are equally important. But enough of our back and forth on this. How about some comments from others?

  2. says:

    Unfortunately I feel you are making my case for me. Your comment that “…show the polic and courts that this crime must be investigated and prosecuted.” belittles all the other victums of crime. By your definition if the crime isn’t a “hate crime” then it should just be thown in a file and forgotten about.

    It doesn’t matter who or what is involved in the crime. Murder is murder regardless of who is the victum. They should all be prosecuted the same and the the guilty punished the same. This goes for lessor crimes as well.

    Linda W.

  3. angela_g angela_g says:

    I agree with you that it doesn’t matter why someone kills you or beats you up—they’re guilty of a crime. Hate crime legislation is not going to stop someone intent on murder. They’ve already shown that they’re not good at making life choices when they use violence to solve their problems. They’re certainly not going to stop and say, “Wait! This could be a hate crime. I’d better not do this cause they’ll punish me harshly.” People like that don’t spend much time thinking with any part of their nervous system above the lower spine. What hate crime legislation does do is show the police and courts that this crime must be investigated and prosecuted. Without the extra hate crime law the police may just say, “Oh, just another gay/trans/etc. murder.” And, to add some perspective to Lawrence’s murder; just a day or so after he was killed a boy here in Philadelphia hit a man with a snowball. The man went to his home, got a gun and murdered the boy. Is a snowball in the face a good excuse for murder?

  4. says:

    Murder, in any form can not be condoned. However, why is one murder more serious than another? Is one persons life worth more than another before some hearless scum snuffs it out because they want to see what it feels like?

    I am not a surporter of “Hate Crime” legislation. If it is against the law it doesn’t matter what the law breakers motivation was. Punish them, period! Don’t say that the murder of a Transgendered person is a hate crime and more serious than the murder of a young child. Both can not be tolerated in a civilized society.

    Punish the guilty and be done with it. For my piece of mind 52 years in jail is too easy. Get a rope, find a tree and be done with it.

    Linda W.

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