How the Gay Community Is Complicit in Trans Violence

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 5, 2009

The first article in this series took a general look at the growing problem of violence against transgendered persons, both in the U.S. and abroad. In the second part, Joe Erbentraut looks at how the media and even many gay organizations ignore or downplay these crimes and what is being done to remedy that.

The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) works to combat misinformation and transphobic coverage through the distribution of resources to members of the media on how to accurately and fairly cover transgender issues, in addition to working with hate crime victims to help them share their stories.

GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios said this accurate media coverage was key to educating the general public and influencing legislation. He said the media still pays "far too little attention" to violence toward the transgender community.

"When people hear media reports about the devastating impact anti-transgender violence has on real families it can influence their opinions about the vital need for inclusive hate crimes legislation in states and at the federal level," Barrios said.

"When proper terminology and respect is used in discussing the lives of transgender people," he continued, "it helps raise awareness and understanding among community members about transgender friends, family and neighbors."

Michael Silverman, executive director of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, agreed. He noted the majority of transgender victims' identities as both low-income and people of color is a likely contributor to the relative lack of media coverage.

Fair media coverage in the case of Lateisha Green, killed last November in Syracuse, N.Y. he said, had a positive impact. The case's first-degree manslaughter conviction of Dwight DeLee as a hate crime was made on the basis of anti-gay, rather than anti-trans, comments.

New York State does not cover gender identity or transgender status in its current legislation. The case's has heightened the profile for trans-inclusive policies in Syracuse and statewide.

"The victims are often viewed as not worthy of the level of attention that they deserve, and that's where activism needs to come in," Silverman shared. "We want to make sure, if nothing else can come of these tragic circumstances, that some kind of public education happens about the violence facing transgender individuals."

Gays & lesbians hardly immune to 'transphobia'

That education clearly needs to happen within the LGBT community itself.

It's a case of "physician, heal thyself." Several reported instances have publicized aggression by gay and lesbian people toward the transgender community.

For example, in February, there was an attack by two cisgender women toward transmen at a lesbian bar event at Washington, D.C.'s Fab Lounge. (The term "cisgender" is a newish phrase that refers to women or men who act according to conventional gender-specific mores and can refer to gay men and lesbians as well as heterosexuals.)

The women reportedly asked, "What the fuck are you? Are you a girl or a boy?" The men were then assaulted by a crowd at the bar.

Last October, a transgender woman was attacked by a gay man while attending a race at the Tucson Greyhound Park. Janey Kay was reportedly using an ATM at the track when a man asked her if she was a "drag queen." When she responded, she endured a cut lip and had clumps of her hair pulled out by the assailant, Richard Ray Young.

Young labeled the incident a "misunderstanding," referencing his own sexuality as a reason why it was not a hate crime. "I let her know that I was one of the family, that I was homosexual," he told an Arizona newspaper. Young was convicted of assault and disorderly conduct by a South Tucson municipal court in August.

Loree Cook-Daniels, a program manager for FORGE, a Milwaukee-based transgender advocacy group, commented on the attacks. She said that, though violence is rare, day-to-day discrimination and exclusion were common among the transgender community's gay and lesbian peers.

"Of course LGB people aren't innocent of transphobia," Cook-Daniels said. "It even makes sense that they may be more transphobic, due to gender allegiance - to be a "gay man" you have to assert both your own male gender and the male gender of those you love - and to the popular conflation of sexual orientation with gender identity."

"If you've spent a lot of time asserting how your gender identity is normative, you may well develop a prejudice against those whose identity is not normative," Cook-Daniels continued.

"I think so often people don't connect the dots and realize the many, many ways that the discrimination that transgender, lesbian, gay and bisexual people experience is interconnected and rooted in things like gender nonconformity and expression," added Silverman. "We still have a lot of work to do."

Frequently, in online blog sites, gay men will refer to those who act effeminate or cross dress derogatorily. Similarly, some commenters on lesbian blog sites refer derisively to women or men who transgress conventional gender-identity roles.

The battle ahead

Despite the recognition that transgender advocates still face a long road ahead in the battle against violence in their community, all sources interviewed for this story agreed they were headed in the right direction. One big step toward a trans-inclusive society is pending hate crime legislation at all levels of government, an inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act at the federal level, and perhaps even a lessened climate for trans-violence.

Sharon Stapel, executive director of the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, referenced the growth of organizing through the Internet and blogging as a successful tactic for transfolk, "allowing everyone, regardless of where they live or who they know, to join in the conversation."

Above all, all sources agreed the transgender community cannot do it alone.

"Invisibility doesn't win political rights or anti-discrimination laws," Cook-Daniels said. "It's in the whole LGBT community's interest to work on anti-trans violence, because it's the same thing that's fueling anti-LG violence: antipathy to those who don't toe society's gender rules."

"We're moving to a place where people being victims of violence is no longer acceptable, but we're not there yet," Stapel said. "We need to hold people to a legal standard of civil rights and a moral imperative to not commit violence against people for who they are and who they love."

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to to read more of his work.