Trans Inclusion Urged for NY Hate Crimes Law

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday October 13, 2009

Proponents of trans hate crime protections are pressing for a small, but significant, change to New York state law that would extend protections to their community as well as to the rest of the GLBT population.

An Oct. 12 New York Times article reports that at the moment, attackers targeting their victims for their sexuality can be charged under existing state law with hate crimes.

However, assailants who target transgendered individuals are not liable to enhanced penalties.

Activists say that has to change, among them Carmella Etienne, who the article said has faced the threat of violence before because of her gender identity.

Activists may have a shot at seeing trans protections included in the state's hate crimes legislation despite similar attempts not having met with success in the past, the article said, noting that crimes against trans victims have generated headlines this year.

Etienne, who was menaced in her own neighborhood by potential assailants threatening her with broken bottles, was quoted as saying, "It scares me to death, what happened to me so close to home.

"A crime is a crime," she continued.

"I shouldn't be treated any differently because of who I am."

Because they used anti-gay language in the verbal assault, the article said, two suspects are facing hate crimes charges--but those charges would not have been triggered by their anti-trans remarks.

The potential difference in jail time, the article noted, is the difference between a term of over three years--or a single day, according to the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund's executive director, Michael D. Silverman.

The article cited Silverman as pointing to a murder case last year involving a transgender woman, Lateisha Green, who was shot and killed. Dwight DeLee was charged with manslaughter as a hate crime and found guilty--but again, not because of allegations that he targeted Green due to her gender identity, but because prosecutors successfully made a case that the shooting was anti-gay, the article said.

The article cited Silverman as noting that the case was the first involving a transgender victim to be prosecuted as a hate crime.

The article also noted that, according to the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, GLBT-targeted violence is climbing across the country.

The current push is only the most recent attempt to expand the law's coverage; last spring, for the annual "Equality and Justice Day" New York GLBT activists sought to impress upon state lawmakers the need for such legislative language, along with measures to counter anti-gay bullying in schools and to grant marriage equality to the state's gay and lesbian families.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.