Man attacks transgender college student, carves "IT" into his chest

by Joseph Erbentraut

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Wednesday April 28, 2010

A violent attack on a transgender student in a men's restroom on the California State University-Long Beach campus earlier this month came as a shock to both the university and city's vibrant LGBT community.

The attack happened around 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 15, when the 27-year-old graduate student encountered a man who addressed him by name inside a men's bathroom outside the lecture hall in which he had a class. The attacker slammed the student against a stall, pulled his t-shirt over his head and carved "IT" into his chest with a sharp object before fleeing the scene. CSULB police continue to investigate the incident as a hate crime.

"I feel lucky because I'm alive," the attack survivor, who wished to remain anonymous, told EDGE in an exclusive interview Monday. "But the person who committed this violent crime is still out there and that's what scares me. This didn't just happen to me, this happened to the whole city."

The attack, upon being reported to University Police, was not followed by any sort of statement from the CSULB officials until the campus newspaper, the Long Beach Post, reported the story on Friday, April 23. The university responded in kind with a campus-wide email and a media statement on Monday, April 26, that detailed the attack. University police released a sketch of the suspect - a 5'9" or 5'10" man with a light complexion and dark hair.

The statement indicates the attack "was an isolated incident and that there is no additional threat to the campus community." CSULB employees contacted for further comment denied EDGE's interview requests.

While the survivor has largely recovered from the physical wounds he suffered, he told EDGE he still feels mentally shaken. A CSULB student since his undergraduate years, he said he had never before encountered physical or verbal harassment.

He suspects his attacker knew his name due to his efforts as a activist and educator; speaking to groups on trans issues throughout Southern California. He is maintaining his anonymity while speaking about the attack to protect his family, including his 7-year-old son.

"I've never felt unsafe here, this has been my second home," he added. "And now my second home is no longer safe? It scares me. I don't want my child to have to grow up in a world where this kind of thing happens."

A loss of security is a feeling shared by other LGBT CSULB students in response to the attack. Many students question why the university has been tentative in choosing its words or amping up campus security. They are planning a rally against anti-trans violence for Thursday, April 29, during the campus' annual Take Back the Night event.

Nicoal Renee Sheen, an organizer of the rally, said she is concerned with the university's response. She denies the attack was a random act, and she hopes to see activists organize around bringing more visibility toward violence while pressuring the university to improve its educational programs and resources for attack victims.

"By stating that it was an 'isolated incident' the University can try and detach itself from any responsibility of addressing the attack," said Sheen. "We all know this is not the first time a violent attack has happened and the tensions have been escalating."

Tension at CSULB revolves around an incident only three weeks before the attack during the university-hosted Chicana Feminisms conference. Comments on a Web story about the conference elicited death threats toward the conference's organizers, including instructions outlining the murder of LGBT people according to Aztec Law. Campus activists see a link between the web threats and the April 15 attack.

"It feels as though the university is fostering an environment where perpetrators of violence feel safe enough to attack students like this," said student activist Michaela Xochitl. "I'm shocked and saddened for the student this happened to, but very angry at the administration for doing so little to protect us and create a campus culture that doesn't tolerate hate speech."

Xochitl said the fact the survivor is trans speaks volumes in deciphering the university's seemingly quiet handling of the attack.

"Their lack of action speaks louder than words," Xochitl added. "The university has sent a clear statement that gender variant community's safety is not a priority for them. We have an incredibly diverse student body and faculty here. To think something like this could happen and the administration would take practically no action to protect us until forced to is incredibly dispiriting."

Despite the criticism, the attacked student defends the University Police's treatment of the crime.

"The police have done everything right," he told EDGE. "We shouldn't turn this into a blame game because a person did this, not the university. We need to focus on the person that did this. I just want to feel safe again."

He hopes the CSULB campus and Long Beach activists alike will continue to come together to denounce anti-trans violence.

"Education is the best way to battle hate," he said. "We feel safe here in Long Beach like it's a bubble, but it's not. There are crazy people and bigots everywhere, and we need to truly come together as a community, putting aside whatever differences we have to counter that."

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

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