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Last Updated: Friday, 26 December, 2003, 03:44 GMT
The victims of prejudice
By Chris Summers
BBC News Online

On 26 December 1993 a young transsexual was shot and stabbed to death in the United States in a crime which later became the subject of the Oscar-winning movie Boys Don't Cry. Ten years on, her family are still seeking justice and dozens of transsexuals continue to be murdered every year.

The film told the true story of Brandon Teena, a girl from Nebraska who chose to live as a boy.

Brandon, who was 21, and two other people, were shot and stabbed to death only days after she complained to the police about being raped.

Two men, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen, were convicted of first-degree murder.

Brandon Teena and lover Lana Tisdale
Nissen struck a plea bargain and was jailed for life in exchange for testifying against Lotter, who was sentenced to death in 1996.

Nebraska is the only state in the United States which retains the electric chair, last used in 1997 for triple killer Robert Williams.

Lotter's lawyers are still fighting to save his life.

But Brandon's mother JoAnn is campaigning for justice for her child, who was born Teena Brandon but flipped her names when she started living as a boy.

JoAnn Brandon remains bitter about the way her daughter was treated after she made the rape complaint.

TRANSSEXUAL MURDER CASES
Feb 1997: James/Robyn Brown, London, UK
Oct 1999: Sissy "Charles" Bolden, Savannah, Georgia
Jul 2000: Julia Carrizales, Webster, Texas
Oct 2002: Gwen Araujo, Newark, California
Jul 2003: Kendrick/Cinnamon Perry, Houston, Texas
Aug 2003: Emonie Spaulding, Washington DC
Oct 2003: Erika Johana, Rome, Italy
Brandon, 21, had lived as a boy for several years, strapping her breasts down, wearing men's clothes and padding her underwear with socks.

She was also dating a woman, Lana Tisdale, who initially believed she was a boy but remained with her when she discovered the truth.

Six days before she died Brandon was attacked and raped by Lotter and Nissen, who had recently found out she was actually a girl.

Brandon reported the attack to Richardson County Sheriff Charles Laux and identified Lotter and Nissen as the assailants.

Mr Laux has been heavily criticised for not arresting the pair and for the way he acted during Brandon's interview.

Brandon Teena suffered from a form of gender dysphoria
He ridiculed her sexuality and was later censured by Nebraska's Supreme Court for the "crude and dehumanising" way he went about interviewing her.

"Laux's conduct was extreme and outrageous, beyond all possible bounds of decency, and is to be regarded as atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilised community," wrote Judge John Hendry.

Last year Mrs Brandon was awarded $7,000 for the emotional distress to Brandon before her death and $5,000 - less than the funeral expenses - for her own loss.

'Her life was worth more than $5,000'

Mrs Brandon lost an appeal to the Nebraska Supreme Court and said at the time: "I am very disappointed. I think my daughter's life was worth more than $5,000."

Gwen Araujo was murdered after it was discovered she was anatomically male
Gwen Smith, who runs a website called Remembering Our Dead which monitors violence against members of the transgender community, said there had been a gradual changing of attitudes in the US and added: "A lot of it stems back to the Brandon Teena case.

"It was very shocking and it was a wake-up call. After it happened the transgender community began to get together and start working on things."

She said violent antipathy towards transsexuals remained high in the US, especially in certain "hotspots" such as Washington DC and Texas.

Changing people's attitudes is a slow process. It's an evolutionary process and it will take time
Gwen Smith
Remembering Our Dead
Ms Smith told BBC News Online: "In the last calendar year there have been 39 transsexuals murdered worldwide, and all have contained an element of anti-transgender bias in them."

One of the most horrific cases was that of Gwen Araujo, a 17-year-old boy from Newark, California, who chose to live as a girl. He was beaten, raped and then murdered after several young men at a party discovered his true sexuality.

Ms Smith said: "There have been changes in Nebraska since Brandon was killed. It was something which shamed the community, a bit like the murder of [homosexual student] Matthew Shepard in Wyoming in 1998."

At Lotter's trial prosecutors said he was terrified of being jailed for the rape and decided to silence the only witness.

Lotter and Nissen tracked Brandon down to a remote farmhouse near Humboldt, Nebraska and killed her, a friend Lisa Lambert, 24, and another man, 22-year-old Phillip DeVine.

Race for plea bargain

When they were arrested for the murder Nissen offered to give evidence against Lotter in exchange for avoiding the death sentence.

Lotter's attorney, Jerry Soucie, told BBC News Online: "The US has a system of plea bargaining, which is always a race to the district attorney's office and the guy who gets there second is dead."

John Lotter
John Lotter has spent seven years on death row. Copyright: Oliviero Toscani/Hands Off Cain
Mr Soucie recently filed a petition with the US Supreme Court requesting the death sentence be set aside because the sentencing phase was undertaken by a judge rather than a jury.

Mr Soucie said there was no physical evidence linking his client to the murder scene: "It was circumstantial evidence based on the sexual assault a week before, which established motive, and several people saw them looking for Teena Brandon on the day of the homicide."

Mr Soucie said there had been a lot of embarrassment in Nebraska about the way the case was handled by Sheriff Laux.

'Embarrassed'

"People were embarrassed that this crime happened in Nebraska and not Possum Shore, Mississippi. It made us look like a bunch of doofuses," he said.

People were embarrassed that this crime happened in Nebraska and not Possum Shore, Mississippi. It made us look like a bunch of doofuses
Jerry Soucie
Lawyer
Mr Laux was voted out of office shortly afterwards and now works as a prison guard.

Earlier this year the Nebraska Supreme Court rejected appeals by Lotter's lawyers, who claimed he was entitled to have a glove DNA tested.

But Mr Soucie said: "I still think Mr Lotter has at least two or three years to fight on."

Gwen Smith said many US states had now introduced legislation to combat discrimination against transsexuals - the UK is set to introduce its own Gender Recognition Bill next year.

But she said: "Changing people's attitudes is a slow process. It's an evolutionary process and it will take time."




SEE ALSO:
Transsexuals set for new rights
28 Nov 03  |  Politics
What the winners said
28 Mar 00  |  Oscars 2000
Life for gay killing
04 Nov 99  |  Americas


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