Gender Outlaws

A new federal hate crimes bill leaves out the most vulnerable.


A bipartisan group of Congressional leaders has introduced a new hate crimes bill (curiously called the “Local Law Enforcement Enhancement Act”) that would extend the federal definition of such crimes to include gays and lesbians and allow for federal assistance in local prosecutions.

Hate crimes against gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transgendered people have more than tripled since the FBI began collecting statistics on the phenomenon just 10 years ago. The FBI’s most recent report on hate crimes statistics for 1999 showed 1,317 of the hate crimes reported in the US were based on sexual orientation. That’s almost 17 percent of all hate crimes reported to the bureau by local, state, and national law enforcement agencies that year. But since some law enforcement agencies don’t track such statistics, and because many victims of hate crimes don’t report them for fear of being outed, the real number is probably higher.

If you are not among those who believe that protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation amounts to “special rights,” the reintroduction of federal hate-crimes legislation is a great thing. And it is, mostly. Except the bill on the table just doesn’t go far enough. Specifically, it doesn’t apply to transgendered people, the segment of sexual minorities for which the rate of bias crimes — especially murder — is arguably growing fastest. A transgendered person is murdered somewhere in the US about once every three weeks.

The National Transgender Advocacy Coalition says the rate of bias-based murders of transgendered people is up 12 percent nationwide since 1994. Most of those murders took place in California and New York, although at least one murder occurred in each of 29 states and the District of Columbia. Confirming the real national rate is tough, though: transgendered people are even less likely than gays and lesbians to report attacks, according to experts, and such crimes are often not classified as hate-motivated because the victims are not technically gay.

What’s worse, say activists, is the silence of the media on murders of transgendered people, even as gay homicides like those of Matthew Shepard and Billy Jack Gaither attract high-profile headlines. The only significant exception was the coverage of the Brandon Teena case, and it didn’t hurt that there was an Oscar-nominated movie about that case. Lest we forget those whose deaths didn’t make the big screen, the transgender community has created an online memorial to its fallen.

New York gets it. Its city council is considering extending its hate crimes statute to include transgendered people. It was in New York that Amanda Milan, a transgendered prostitute, was murdered last year. She has since become an icon of a movement trying to gain visibility in the debate over hate crimes.

Bits and Pieces

COW POWER
California is desperate for power. So desperate that cow, er, “emissions” are being considered as a potentially harnessable source of gas. Experiments are under way to use bacteria to turn manure into fertilizer and methane (the same gas also emitted by cows’ digestive systems), which can be burned in gas-powered electrical generators.

CLEAN CHIPS
The manufacture of computer chips is one of the dirtiest, most environmentally unfriendly industrial processes around. So it’s good news that scientists at the US Department of Energy’s Los Alamos Laboratory have developed a new method of manufacturing using a nonflammable, non-toxic, environmentally friendly solvent that could greatly reduce water use and cut the volume of hazardous waste produced by computer chip makers.