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Our dead remembered

BY SHAY O'REILLY | NOVEMBER 19, 2010 7:20 AM

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Pedro Jones is 20 years old and facing murder charges in the death of his girlfriend's son. According to New York State Police, Jones was baby-sitting the 17-month-old boy in August when he allegedly beat the child to death.

Jones said he was trying to make the boy "act like a boy instead of a little girl." The case drew national attention for a simple reason — the killing of a toddler for failure to conform highlights the absurdity of gender policing.

But, outside of specifically queer newswires, few have paid attention to the slaying of Victoria Carmen White, a transgender woman shot in New Jersey; Stacey Blahnik Lee, a transgender woman killed in the Philadelphia home she shared with her boyfriend; Amanda Gonzalez Andujar, a transgender woman allegedly strangled by a man she met in a chat room; and Dana A. Larkin, a transgender black sex worker killed on the job in Wisconsin.

Saturday is the 12th-annual Transgender Day of Remembrance. Communities around the world will mourn these deaths and at least 30 more people slain for their gender presentation in the last year. It is an event of commemoration and a quiet fury: These were our sisters and brothers, murdered for who they are.

"The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons," Fyodor Dostoevsky wrote in 1862. A modern interpretation, generalized for our increasingly complex times: We can judge a society by how it treats those whom it least values. We can judge a society by its most miserable moments and by the wretchedness it condones — and this, right here, is our society's failing report card.

Certainly, American society prosecutes murder. Jones may face life in prison for the alleged murder of his girlfriend's son; the alleged killers of White, Gonzalez-Andujar, and Larkin are currently facing the legal system. But our society also scorns and ostracizes those who do not conform to gender norms.

Until October 2009, with the passage of the Matthew Shepard Act, crimes against people based on gender identity and sexual orientation, whether real or perceived, were not considered hate crimes.
Those who object to hate-crime legislation ignore the existing cultural milieu. The revelation that an intimate partner is transgender is viewed as so horrifying that subsequent murderous actions really constitute second-degree murder — or so Allen Andrade's lawyers argued after he bashed Angie Zapata's head in with a fire extinguisher in 2008.

Posthumously, this sad state of affairs is no different. The police report on Lee's homicide referred to her with male pronouns. White's death was originally reported under her birth name, despite the fact that she had changed her legal name and birth certificate. These women gave their lives to be considered women; that, apparently, is not enough for us.

The degree of humanity in our society, indicated by our treatment of transgender individuals, is shameful. A Center for Transgender Equality survey found that 42 percent of female-to-male transgender individuals delayed needed medical care because of discrimination by providers, 41 percent of transgender-identified people have attempted suicide, and 19 percent of respondents were refused treatment due to their gender identity.

Last month, I served on a panel of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students for sociology Assistant Professor Steven Hitlin's gender and society class. As I and five other queer-identified students sat on the front counter in Van Allen Hall's Lecture Room 2, one student raised her hand and asked the penultimate question of the afternoon: "What can we do to make things better?"

You don't perpetuate the kind of gender policing that killed a 17-month-old boy and more than 30 women and men this year. You mourn. And you remember that our society has been found wanting.


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