by DEBORAH RUDACILLE
On October 26, 2009 city police responded to a call in the 1500 block of Montpelier Street in Northeast Baltimore to find a male-bodied person dressed in women’s clothes bleeding from the left side of his body. Darren Green, 24, died shortly afterwards at Johns Hopkins Hospital from multiple stab wounds. Green was one of the transgendered victims of violent crime memorialized at City Hall on November 20th, the International Transgender Day of Remembrance, by a group of activists, friends and city and state officials.
It was a poignant moment for Kalima Young, research director of Connect to Protect: Baltimore, an advocacy group: “I’m sorry that we have to be here, but so proud that the city views it as important.”
(Baltimore had an even more recent reminder of the violent toll taken by hate based on sexual orientation: a Baltimore Sun story on Friday revealed that Glen H. Footman, the Mount Vernon man shot in 2008 shortly after being seen walking on the street hand-in-hand with his partner, died earlier this month. A witness to the shooting, still under investigation as a hate crime, was overheard saying “I’m going to kill me a gay tonite.”)
The first Day of Remembrance was held in San Francisco in 1999 as a vigil for Rita Hester, murdered in that city on November 28, 1998. Since then, Day of Remembrance ceremonies have spread to over 150 cities, from Minsk to Tel Aviv to Yogyakarta, Indonesia—anywhere that transgendered people live, die and are not too afraid to speak out in public against the violence, discrimination and prejudice they confront daily. “We have to fight every day just to maintain a sense of self,” said Falina Laron, a peer educator and trans outreach worker at AIDS Action Baltimore.
The two-hour program and vigil was supported by city agencies, including the Office of the Mayor and City Council. A city ordnance banning discrimination in employment, housing and public accomodation based upon gender identity or expression, was signed by former mayor Martin O’Malley in 2002. Advocates have been unsuccessful in expanding protection to transgendered people on the state level, however, though a state law banning discrimination based upon sexual orientation was passed in 2001.
Morgan Meneses-Sheets, the new executive director of Equality Maryland, an LGBT advocacy group, says that while the group will continue working on legislation, public education is just as important as policy. “So many things in our society are gender-segregated but we really don’t know how to deal with people who don’t fit neatly into a box,” she said. That perspective was seconded by other speakers at the conference, many of whom represent city and state agencies tasked with outreach to the LGBT community.
“A few weeks ago, a fifteen-year old child was brutally murdered for no other reason than sexual orientation,” remarked Alvin Gillard, Director of the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission, the city agency tasked with enforcing the anti-discrimination law.
Gillard referred to the November 10th slaying of Jason Mattison, Jr., who was raped and stabbed repeatedly with a boxcutter in the head and throat and then stuffed in a closet by 35-year old Dante L. Parrish.
Though he identified as gay, not transgendered, Mattison’s flamboyant speech, style and dress sometimes made him a target of bullies and surely played a role in his death. The extraordinary brutality of the crime is consistent with the violent deaths suffered by the transgender murder victims whose names and manner of death were flashed on screen throughout the City Hall ceremony. Many were stabbed repeatedly, bludgeoned, set on fire, tortured or mutilated—graphic evidence of the fear and hatred directed at gender-variant people worldwide.
“There is an open season on transgendered people in the U.S. and around the world,” said Cydne Kimbrough, founder and director of Gender Learning Advocacy and Support System (GLASS) Baltimore. “I walk around in fear in this city every day.”
Noting that Darren Green, the 25-year old found dead in October, was one of her clients, and that his death, like that of Mattison, has not been classified as a hate crime, she said “we will continue to see slaughtered children and survival sex until we start holding people accountable for the law put in place in 2002.”
“Survival sex” is the term used by caseworkers to refer to the high rates of prostitution among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth who are often ejected from their homes by family members disturbed by their sexual orientation or gender expression. “So many get put out because their families don’t know how to deal with it,” said Keith Holt, Baltimore City Youth Commissioner. “They are thrown out of their homes at an early age and forced to support themselves by offering sex.”
In Baltimore, LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans) young people “are over-represented among the homeless,” says Gay Life editor Maddie Dwertman, and city agencies and other social service providers don’t do a very good job of dealing with the needs of the trans kids. “Many would rather stay on the streets rather than go to a shelter,” she pointed out, because they are assigned beds on the basis of biological sex, rather than gender identity. “Many of our institutions have a complete lack of awareness of the consequences” of housing a male-bodied person who identifies as female with men, said Meneses-Sheets.
Although a trans-inclusive hate crimes law was passed by the U.S. Congress on October 22, 2009, the work of educating legislators and the public about the challenges faced by transgendered people has barely begun, she said. “If we allow ignorance to permeate our community, then we allow the climate that fosters violence to continue.”