In the Wake of Hate Crime

Guest posting to Pam’s House Blend, Nov 3, 2009

by Nancy Nangeroni

Picture this: it’s a crisp early December night, and you’re walking down the sidewalk of a semi-urban street, carrying a candle whose flame flutters in the night, struggling to stay lit.  On one arm, the mother of a trans woman who has just been murdered, and on the other, the sister.  Trailing behind, a seemingly endless stream of mourners carrying candles.  Against the semi-darkness of a busy street dominated by the sound of traffic and the glare of street lights, the stream struggles for visibility.  The mother at your side is not shy about sharing her grief with the world around you, and her cries into the night – “Who took my baby!” – echo off the walls on either side.  You did not know the murdered girl for whom the outpouring of grief and solidarity materialized almost overnight, but you cannot help but be moved, deeply, by her mother’s generous sharing of her grief.  You are part of a community of caring people who have lost one of their own to violence.  The somber vigil moves on into the night, following as you lead the bereaved family to the site of the brutal crime.  Your entire being resonates with shared loss.

Or this: you’ve been standing outside of a courthouse where the murderer of a transsexual woman is on trial.  She was brutally stabbed to death, and you felt compelled to do something, even if it’s just standing outside the courthouse holding a sign protesting violence against trans persons.  There are only two or three other people with you.  A single reporter asks you a few questions, a photographer takes a photo.  Then the doors to the courthouse open, and several people emerge.  One of them walks over to you.  She tells you she’s the sister of the murdered woman.  Then she gives you a big hug, telling you how much she appreciates you being there.  You feel helpless in the face of her loss, which you can’t begin to imagine.

Or this: You’ve been holding a series of demonstrations outside the courthouse where the murderer of another transsexual is being tried.  Now, he’s being sentenced, and you’ve once again stood outside the courthouse, handing out fliers protesting the denigration of the victim, the whitewashing of the murderer’s guilt.  It’s your third demonstration in the past several weeks, and only one other person has joined you this time.  After awhile, the two of you head inside to witness the sentencing firsthand.  As you step off the elevator and turn towards the courtroom, a bathroom door across the hallway opens.  A man emerges, and, unbelievably, you recognize the face of the bastard that strangled a transwoman to death in his own bedroom, and who is now trying to get away with it.  For an instant, your voice catches in your throat.  What do you say?  Do you try to make him feel the weight of his guilt, the hurt that he has done not just to that girl, but to a family and a community?  Do you lash out at him in raw hatred?  Or do you stare at him stonily, and let him imagine his own worst nightmare?

I’m one of the lucky ones.  These instances are as close as I’ve come to the brutality too often dealt to those who dare to follow their own transgender compass.  I do what I can to help those less fortunate, joined by a growing community.  And now we have a federal Hate Crimes law to help prosecute those who trample our humanity.

This is what progress looks like.  It comes too late for too many.  But it is the latest of many steps forward, and for that I am grateful.