Another transgender murder
Local TG group declares 'state of emergency and national crisis'

by Vicky Kolakowski

Bay Area Reporter, April 8, 1999 (Vol. 29, No, 14) p. 19
(c) 1999 Bay Area Reporter


The murder of Tracey Thompson in Wilcox County, Georgia on Tuesday, March 30 has prompted local transgender activists to declare a "state of emergency and national crisis."

Thompson, formerly known as Billy Joe Turner, was found severely bleeding from head wounds after walking a half-mile to a farmhouse in rural Georgia from the crime scene. She was beaten with a baseball bat and later died from the wounds, but only after police conducted some initial questioning.

Police say that Thompson identified her boyfriend as the assailant, although police have been unable to identify the boyfriend. Something of a drifter, police have had difficulties reconstructing Thompson's personal life and identifying the murderer.

The murder is the fifth publicly reported murder of a transgendered person this year, which some transgender leaders view as an emerging epidemic.

"Reported cases of transgender murders are escalating; since August of 1998 there has been approximately one murder a month," Gwen Smith, a Bay Area transgender activist who tracks reports of transgender murders, told the Bay Area Reporter. "Since February of 1999, however, that number has jumped to two a month."

Based on very liberal estimates of the transgender population, which would yield a conservative murder rate, transgender historian Candice "Kay" Brown recently calculated that a murder rate of one male-to-female transsexual person each month comes to an average of 119 murders per 100,000 transsexuals, or an average 16 times greater than the national average. This murder rate is more than three times that of African-American men, who have the next highest recorded murder rate.

"And considering that most of it is motivated by transphobia, as evidenced by the brutality of the manner of death [multiple stabbing, beating, choking] we are indeed seeing the brunt of the hate crime in the U.S. as a percentage of our population. - This is a state of emergency," Brown declared.

Local transgender group TG Rage is responding to the murders by starting a campaign of letter and e-mail writing and other activities designed to draw the attention of the general public to the high murder rate of transgender people.

Roots of violence

The causes of the high murder rate appear to be more complex than simple random transphobic violence. Widespread employment discrimination leads to an unusually high unemployment rate among transgender people, says Rosalyne S. Montgomery of Transgenders United for Equality (TRUE). Montgomery works as an advocate for the low-income transgender community in San Francisco.

This economic and social marginalization places transgender people in more high risk situations, transgender activists contend, forcing them to be more dependent upon more dangerous lifestyles and relationships.

"This happens all the time to male-to-female transsexual victims of violence," Shawna Virago, a domestic violence and hate violence victim advocate for Community United Against Violence (CUAV) in San Francisco, told the B.A.R. "Her choices are limited. Often she dates someone she knows is wrong for her, her friends know are wrong for her, but there is a fear of being alone, and she thinks that having anyone is better than no one. Many of us have this fear that nobody will find us attractive and will want us."

In addition, outside of the Bay Area some male-to-female transsexuals feel unsupported by either the gay and lesbian or the mainstream straight domestic violence groups. Locally, CUAV has developed an especially strong relationship with San Francisco's transgender community.

The problem confronted by transgender victims of violence is compounded by widespread concern about police abuse of transgender people, which leads transgender people to avoid police involvement in already tense domestic situations, Virago said.

CUAV held a press conference on Tuesday, April 6 to discuss their annual report on hate violence at which they highlighted the problems of police abuse of transgender people (see related story, page 1). The press conference was followed by a rally by TransAction on Wednesday, April 7 at the San Francisco Hall of Justice, to specifically address the problem of police abuse of transgender people. TransAction is a collaboration between advocates from CUAV, Bay Area PoliceWatch, and other transgender activists.

"In over 50 percent of the total transgender hate violence cases, the offender was a law enforcement officer," Virago noted about the local findings. "This completely mirrors the national trend. There is increased police brutality against the transgender community."

"People need to realize that transsexuals frequently face these two problems," Virago added, "of feeling trapped with someone they know is wrong, and then afraid that the police will abuse them if they report it."

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