There is no safe way to be transgendered

Originally published in DaKine, June 2001; appeared in Transgender Tapestry #097, Spring 2002.

by Li Anne W. Taft

With Hawaii Legislators withholding equal rights and protection from TG men and women, we must work harder together towards a safer society

May 1st?Lei Day?brought frightening news: Hawaii?s Hate Crimes Bill was sent to the Governor with ?gender and transgendered? removed from its protected status list. Our legislators had made a poor choice and a biased statement: that gender identity and gender expression were not worthy of government protection.

Such prejudiced legislation could very well put transgendered men and women at greater risk of harm in Hawaii. By excluding gender and transgender from protected status in our islands? laws and public policies, our elected representatives put forth a message: the legislation, the police, and the court system do not value transgendered people.

Present and future attackers and murderers of transgendered men and women in Hawaii motivated by hatred and prejudice can breathe easier now: if convicted, they will not receive increased penalties as in other hate crime cases.
Our legislators seem to have ignored the statistics, the testimony, numerous news reports, and Internet postings that describe the vicious assaults and murders of transgendered men and women. One reputable website, the Remembering Our Dead page at, reports that on the average in the U.S., one transgendered man or woman is murdered every month?crimes clearly motivated by hatred and prejudice.

To be transgendered in Hawaii means frequent contact with angry, biased people who give stinkeye, call out derogatory comments, and express a desire to inflict harm. Assault and murder motivated by prejudice and hatred against transgendered men and women will not decrease without protective measures in place to deter and punish the offenders. To remain safe and unharmed in Hawaii, transgendered folks must depend on their own vigilance and defense tactics and not on assistance or protection from police and public officials.

We must not forget those who have been assaulted and/or murdered. Our state legislators need to visit the Remembering Our Dead website and see those killed due to transgender hate and prejudice. Transgendered individuals murdered in Hawaii, including Jill Siedell and Victoria Hall, are listed there.

?We have lost so many in our community to hatred and prejudice, yet the news media calls us freaks,? writes the website?s creator, Gwendolyn Ann Smith. ?It can be all-but-impossible to find honest, reliable media (reports) on the death of a transgendered person,? she writes. Ms. Smith reporters mislead their readers and insult the victims by using ?names that the deceased did not own and pronouns that did not fit their reality.?

?There is no safe way to be transgendered,? warns the website, which lists 200+ men and women reported murdered since 1972 due to hatred and prejudice. The 1995 story of transwoman Debra Forte describes ?several 6-inch stab wounds to her chest; any one would have been sufficient to kill her.? Debra?s murderer is up for parole in nine years after receiving a life sentence for 2nd degree murder.

Debra?s niece says her aunt?s violent death still greatly affects her family, ?I had to lobby Congress for gender inclusion in the Hate Crimes Prevention Act, repeating the same story over and over, only to have it fall on deaf, congressional ears. I was begging these people we vote for, for basic human rights. I seethe with anger, but to no avail.?

New legislation has moved forward in several states and cities that provide protective measures for transgendered persons. Rhode Island?s House recently voted to extend civil rights protections to transsexuals and crossdressers, and on May 10th, Texas passed a Hate Crimes bill that includes gender along with race, religion, color, disabilities, sexual orientation, age, and national origin. Texas and Rhode Island join Minnesota and Connecticut and several cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, New Orleans, Atlanta, and Cambridge, with protective laws already in place.

After being a safe haven for diverse people and new ideas for centuries, Hawaii has stumbled. Our current laws and public polices give protected status based on race, religion, sex, nationality, age, disability, and sexual orientation?but gender and transgender remain off all protective status lists. In light of this injustice, Hawaii?s GLBT communities must express their indignation and demand that our government leaders not pick and choose certain groups of people worthy of protection. Our policymakers, police, and courts, sworn to give service and equal protection to all islands residents, need to extend their defense shield to Hawaii?s transgendered folks, regardless of the 2001 legislative actions (or lack of such).

Once gender identity and gender expression are protected, our island home will be a safer place for transgendered men and women, adding much credibility to Hawaii as the Land of Aloha and the Geneva of the Pacific.

Text References

Root, Jay. (2001, 10 May). After much debate, Texas finally gets hate crimes law: A Nearly Identical Bill Died 2 Years Ago when Bush was Governor. Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Sabar, Ariel. (2001, 2 May). House Extends Civil-Rights Protection: Crossdressers and Transsexuals Say That the State?s Gay-rights Law Does Not Protect Them From Discrimination. Providence Journal State House Bureau.

Li Anne Taft currently resides in Honolulu. She?s been active as a member of Hawaii Transgender Outreach (HTGO), Life Foundation?s Transgender Community Action Committee (T-CAC), and guest lectures at area colleges on gender issues. Please email your questions and information about recent TG movies, books, articles, community events and news stories to