The following blog entry began, as these “Open Letters” often do, as a reaction to a piece of venomous anti-trans bile I stumbled across in the wilds of the internets. I find that I start to write a “comment” and as the word-count climbs I realize I have much more to say than is appropriate for that kind of forum. Thankfully, I have a blog of my own.
I had been intentionally refraining from writing anything about the recent beating in a Baltimore McDonald’s of a woman named Chrissy Lee Polis, who as it happens is also transsexual. The reason for this is that I felt much had been said about the incident already. Her tragedy had been claimed and counter-claimed by various people and groups all purporting to know just what this woman was going through and using the publicity generated by this tragedy as fuel for their own fires.
I don’t judge necessarily, I’m a politician and an activist I know how it works. Some of these have been noble causes. Some not so much. But for myself, I decided to stay mostly silent.
It seemed to me that most everyone was forgetting that there is a woman who has been hurt and scared at the center of all this. A woman who has had all shreds of anonymity ripped away from her by sudden and unasked for internet celebrity. Who can no longer walk around her own neighborhood without being recognized and “outed” as transsexual.
And I suppose by writing this now; I am perhaps no different than anyone who has written about this horrifying incident before me. I offer only the small justification that I do not claim to have any more personal knowledge of Ms. Polis’ personal feelings than anyone else. Only that I recognize her ordeal as one which has sadly been shared by countless other transpeople who have suffered similarly, if less publicly. It is for all those of my sisters and brothers who suffered thus that I speak up now.
Also, as a blogger and a newspaper columnist myself, I felt compelled to respond to the column entitled: “’Hate crime’ justice is no justice at all” by Gregory Kane of the Washington Examiner. Perhaps I have not yet been nominated for a Pulitzer, as Mr. Kane has, but I try to be as well informed and balanced in my opinions and writing as I am able. And I found Mr. Kane’s bigoted and pointedly mean column to be quite lacking in these qualities.
This then is my response to him. I hope that he reads it.
Dear Mr. Kane,
You sir, are an ass.
However you have inadvertently provided an almost pitch perfect example of why hate crime protections for and education about transpeople are absolutely necessary. The sneering manner in which you refer to Chrissy Lee Polis as a “woman” and insist on the fairly pointed usage of male pronouns throughout, indicates to me that you neither know, nor care about the struggles of those who are not so fortunate as yourself. Who have not been lucky enough to be born in a body they were comfortable with. Who were “gendered” in a way they found discordant with their own self-knowledge. Who, in the attempt to align their own public identities with that self-knowledge, often find themselves marginalized, hated and abused with little available recourse.
Ill-informed hatred like that you spew forth from this column is the very engine that drives this abuse. Yours are the words that justify the beatings.
That said, I am going to assume by the fact you have been nominated for a Pulitzer, that you are an intelligent man. And I would like to point out to you, and to those of your readers who might be similarly misinformed, exactly why hate crime protections are called for and indeed vitally needed.
It is not, as you seem to assume, to achieve more excessive criminal punishments than are already called for. In point of fact if most crimes against transpeople were simply punished with the same severity as are similar crimes against most everyone else, it would be a step in the right direction. As it is, even the most heinous crimes, murder for example, when committed against transgender, transsexual and intersex folks, are often punished with little more than a slap on the wrist.
We are not looking for more stringent punishments than those against non-transpeople. We are simply hoping for some degree of equity with anyone else.
A sentiment which was, I believe, shared by the wise Founders of this country. In the interest of brevity I’ll refrain from direct quotes and assume you’re familiar with a rather important document called, “The Declaration of Independence”. At least I hope you are.
The real reason we need Hate Crime protections have little to do with the whinging “political correctness” you accuse us of. It has everything to do with being counted.
This evening I attended a meeting of local activists in which one member was presenting information on the recent beating of the woman you refer to in your column, Chrissy Lee Polis. Who I would like to remind you is more than just fodder for another week’s column, to be sneered at and denigrated. She is a real flesh and blood person. And a citizen of these United States who has been brutalized while others simply stood by and watched. (How Un-American is that!?!?!)
The person giving this presentation admitted that there was precious little in the way of hard information or statistics to be found regarding crime and discrimination against transpeople. Even the F.B.I. came up flat. This is because as a community we are often not counted. Ignored even in the national census. There are few crime statistics because the way the system in this country is set up, the only crimes against minority groups that are counted, tracked and dealt with are those which are registered as Hate Crimes. Everything from funding to prevent such violence to programs to help the victims, are determined by these numbers.
Without Hate Crime protections we may as well not even exist as far as some law enforcement and governmental bodies are concerned. Without Hate Crime protections, as well as other basic Civil Rights which we are also fighting for, we will continue to be beaten, killed, denied basic dignities and generally pushed to the margins of society.
And that sir is why we are standing up in ever increasing numbers to demand that we be treated with the same dignity as anyone else. Why we ask for Hate Crime Preventions and Anti-Discrimination Laws. Why I get so angry when I see men like you, men who have power, privilege and position; belittling and demeaning people like Chrissy Lee Polis and myself who have to watch our backs every minute of the day and fight for every step up we can get.
Think about that the next time you settle into your chair and begin another column with a full stomach and an unharmed body. And thank God for your great good luck.