Is There Justice for All?
by Allison Woolbert
Lying in a hospital bed three days after major surgery, I read the news of a horrific murder in Maplewood, NJ. A transgender woman, Victoria White, was brutally murdered in her apartment on September 12th, 2010. The silence in my ears was deafening, and the tragedy of yet another life lost was heart-wrenching. It was all the more painful for me, as I had just completed gender reassignment surgery and was struggling to get back on my feet after such a painful surgery. Victoria had gone through the same surgery a few years prior to mine to proclaim her true gender.
At first, there was significant confusion brought about by a callous police department. They announced her death by citing her as a male, using her birth name – a name she was no longer known by. Victoria had legally changed her name years before, and after gender reassignment surgery had also legally changed her gender. Yet the police chose to deny Victoria White the respect she deserved by not recognizing her as a woman, or by her chosen, legal name. The next day, the police corrected themselves, calling her Victoria, and saying they would investigate this blunder.
For the next few days, I hoped that the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community would rise up and call for immediately action in finding Victoria’s murderer and that Victoria be given the dignity of her name and gender. I hoped that the media and the community would reflect on the pain and suffering it took Victoria to come out as her true self. I looked for the community to have vigils and spread the news of the murder.
Day after day, the papers were silent. Day after day, the LGB community was silent. Day after day, the discussion on the news blogs was a question about her “true” gender. Yet the most important question of all was not raised – Who murdered Victoria White and what was law enforcement doing to find her murderer? Today, the investigation is ongoing, the public and most of the LGBT community is silent. There are no cries to find her murderer. There are few voices advocating for Victoria. There is simply a deafening whisper from our community.
On September 22nd, ten days after the murder of Victoria, Tyler Clementi had his privacy invaded, and his sexual orientation blasted throughout the web. It was a horrible act of bullying and Tyler could take no more of it. He jumped off the George Washington Bridge and was found dead two days later. The press exploded, and the LGBT community overwhelmingly took to the streets. Equality groups immediately called for investigations and enhanced penalties, bloggers across the country picked up the story, and a national firestorm erupted to discuss the roots of school bulling. Vigils and town hall meetings were held. The death of Tyler Clementi was on the national news every day, and a national call to end bullying resounded on every major news network.
There was a drastic difference in how the LGBT community responded to the deaths of two people. A drastic difference in how the community looked at two very different people and concluded one was more highly valued than the other. Let me share some of the differences with you. Tyler was young, gay, and white, and a promising musician who was attending a New Jersey state college. Victoria was young, transgender, and black, and a promising model who lived in a struggling neighborhood. It’s that simple. Gay, white college student. Black struggling transgender woman. My question is, given such horribly injustice and loss of so many in the LGBT community, why isn’t Victoria’s murder given the same outcry as Tyler? Is she less worthy of justice? Does our community have a racism issue? Is our community transphobic? Has our community missed the realities of oppression and the need for equality for all individuals? It certainly begs the question of why the reaction from our community was barely a whisper for Victoria, and Tyler became the rally point.
In all fairness, I do have to say that Garden State Equality in NJ consistently has raised Victoria and transgender bullying up in their town hall meetings the past few weeks. Not one of the media outlets published a single line about the transgender violence that is happening daily in our communities despite real stories of transgender individuals who were murdered and bullied. Censoring of transgender violence is a major dilemma to get the word out about our lives when national media refuses to allow our deaths to be known. It has been up to the LGBT community to insure that we remember transgender deaths and suicides and bring attention to the horrors that happen within our community.
For several years now, I have observed that when a young gay man is murdered or commits suicide, the LGBT community rallies around that individual to seek justice. But every year, as transgender individuals are murdered and dismembered, our same community remains silent. It’s a sad commentary, but it is a long-standing pattern. The message from the vast majority of the queer community is that the lives of transgender individuals are worth less, and that nobody cares.
Every year, around November 20th, the transgender and allied community observes Transgender Day of Remembrance. It is a ceremony to honor and bring voice to transgender women and men that have been murdered based solely on their gender identity and expression. Last year, more than 150 transgender individuals were murdered. It is the largest number ever reported. At a memorial service in Princeton, NJ, my expectations were that a few hundred people would come out to honor our dead, to remember them, and to seek justice for their murders. I was wrong. Fewer than 50 people attended the vigil. In stark contrast, a few weeks later, thousands of individuals turned out for a Marriage Equality rally in Trenton. I sat in the room as thousands spoke of their desire for equality and hope. I saw clergy, teachers, activist groups and community leaders stand proudly to confront a cowardly legislature for denying marriage equality. And yet, where were the thousands of voices for Victoria? Where were the clergy seeking justice for those transgender people who were murdered?
The hollow silence rings in my ears to this day.
There is something you can do. This year, I hope you will join me in having a Transgender Day of Remembrance Ceremony in your community and congregation. Use your voice to come out and say that murder of anyone is unacceptable, and that all life has value. I am sure you agree that Victoria White was just important as Tyler Clementi, and that law enforcement must aggressively pursue the murderers of transgender people. It’s your voice that can make the difference. Will you remain silent?
If you would like to know how to organize a Transgender Day of Remembrance Vigil or need assistance or guidance in the planning your event, please contact me directly by emailing Allison Woolbert at email@example.com .
As a Gender and Transgender Advocate Allison Woolbert shares her experiences and knowledge about living in today’s society as a gender affirmed woman, bringing clarity to the many facets of gender that has been portrayed as a binary societal construct. She is the parent of five children, CEO of Phoenix Consultants Group, Inc, a software systems development firm, and co-founder of the Rainbow Gatherings at Murray Grove & the Interweave chapter of South Jersey. She served as Transgender Advocate for the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office in 2009, and is an event organizer/coordinator for the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Allison can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
More News on Allison:
UU World – Fall 2010– “Allison Woolbert… is one of the Unitarian Universalist Association’s most vocal advocates for passage of a bill guaranteeing the rights of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people in the workplace”