I have been remiss of late in discussing transgender issues on Tuesdays. There are two important recent events that I want to discuss. One is the beginning of the Angie Zapata murder trial in Colorado and the other is the story of Sarah Vestal and her treatment by a National Car Rental employee in Little Rock, Arkansas. Both stories highlight the dangers faced by the trans community and the importance of including protection for gender identity in hate crime legislation.
Angie Zapata was murdered in Greeley, Colorado in July, 2008. Her alleged killer's trial begins today with jury selection. Angie was a 18-year-old transwoman beaten to death with a fire extinguisher after a date discovered she was trans. Allen Andrade is charged with first-degree murder and a bias-motivated crime. He is being prosecuted under the Colorado state hate crime law. Angie had been living as a woman for 4 years when she had the misfortune to encounter Andrade.
The other incident I want to discuss is Sarah Vestal and National Car Rental. Sarah, a transwoman, was harrassed and verbally threatened while attempting to return her rental at the Little Rock Airport by an employee of National. To add insult to injury, the airport cop told her he couldn't help her since the employee hadn't actually struck her. I'm fairly certain that assault laws in most states include the threat of violence in their definition. Regardless, this employee threatened to take her head off (using colorful expletives) and cocked his fist back to strike her. That certainly sounds like grounds for an assault charge. Sarah did get some help from airport employees who took a written report.
Until she receives something more than the form letter reply from National and an apology from the Little Rock PD, I believe she needs to keep news of this incident alive. Boycotting National sounds like an appropriate first step. While Sarah survived this incident with no physical harm, she deserved better from her home town. It's important that transfolk keep reporting these kind of incidents.
No one should live with the fear of physical or psychological harm just because of their gender identity or sexual orientation. LGBT individuals, their allies and families need to keep pushing for federal hate crime legislation. If the states cannot or will not include protection for these people, then the federal government must step in and do what is right. it is my job as an ally to let everyone know that this kind of behavior is real and happens all too often. We, as Americans, need to understand that everyone deserves the right to live their lives without the threat of physical injury or death for simply being who they are.
It is acts such as these that highlight the need to add sexual orientation and gender identity to the federal hate crime laws. Without their inclusion, victims of sexual orientation or gender identity hate crimes are subject to varying state laws. Currently, only 11 states and Puerto Rico include both sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes under hate crime legislation. Another 19 include sexual orientation as a protected class. A whopping 19 have no protection for either. (Michigan says sexual orientation is a protected class for the purpose of data collection about hate crimes.)
The federal hate crime bill, also known as the Matthew Shepard Act, is currently under consideration in the House. Through the Human Rights Campaign website, you can send an email to your Senators and Representatives encouraging them to vote for this important legislation. I urge you to do so. Let them know about Angie. Remind them that all Americans deserve their protection.