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By Gwendolyn Ann Smith
I typically find myself feeling a little pessimistic this time of year. I look back with a cynical eye at the failings of the last twelve months and paint the whole year with a rather bleak brush. Unfortunately, I also don’t feel I’m far off when I do such. Especially over the last few years.
Yet in looking back over 2005 as far as transgender issues are concerned, I cannot help but be a little heartened by a few key victories. I dare say that 2005 might be remembered as a tipping point when it comes to transgender rights.
Some of the bigger victories of this year have been in the realm of hate violence: for the first time, a transgender-inclusive bill — the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act — made it through a branch of Congress. It still has a long, uphill battle before we see this even move another step forward, and it’s also plenty unlikely that the inclusion of gender identity will remain within the bill as it continues through the legislative process. That said, it is a victory to even be able to see a bill with transgender-inclusive language pass — especially given how many seem to think it could never happen.
While no hate crimes bills were effectively used in the courts, we did see several prosecutions of anti-transgender murderers. The biggest was the second-degree murder convictions of Jose Merel and Michael Magidson in the death of Gwen Araujo. A bittersweet win, given that they were not found guilty of first degree murder nor of a hate crime — and that Jason Cazares, also accused on the crime, has managed to plead out to manslaughter for a mere six years.
The killer of Bella Evangelista was sentenced to sixteen years in jail for her murder. Jessica Mercado’s killer received 30 years for murder and arson. Also, the 120-year murder conviction of Nireah Johnson and Brandie Coleman’s killer was upheld.
Still, I cannot wrap these up without also noting the laughable sentence given another confessed killer, Estanislao Martinez, who was given a mere four years — three for the killing and one for using scissors as a weapon — in the killing of Joel Robles.
Oh yes, I must also note that there were 25 anti-transgender murders in 2005: one death every two weeks.
Not everything in the courts this year has been about our murders. The Supreme Court of the United States opted to not hear an appeal by the City of Cincinnati, who felt their police department should be allowed to discriminate against a transgender employee. This case, like others over the least decade, may further pave the way to using Title VII under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to protect the rights of transgender employees.
The world of entertainment has been better this year than many in the past: this was the first Summer in several years to not have a big-name crossdressing comedy. Instead, we have two serious films in the theaters with transgender characters — “Breakfast On Pluto” and “Transamerica.” Such might seem trivial, but when one gains the eye of popular culture, one can win in many other ways.
All this seem to add up to a greater awareness of our issues and needs, a cultural shift that can lead to a great many things for transgender people in general.
I want to leave you with this thought: if 2005 was the tipping point, then think of what can be achieved in 2006. We may have a chance at creating some serious, long-lasting change — but even if we have reached such a place, it’s no time for resting on our laurels and letting gravity do all the work.
If you can help effect change, please do so, or continue to do so. If you can support those individuals or organizations out there dedicated to doing this sort of work, please help. The more people involved, the more we can do — and the harder it will be for those who might seek to keep us down.
We have some momentum, let’s not squander it. Indeed, let’s make 2006 a year to remember.