Running scared

Chris Azzopardi
By | 2016-06-11T09:00:00-04:00 June 11th, 2016|News|

BrainKate and Jamie ducked behind a parked car. After dodging beer bottles to the head and hearing “faggot” echo beneath the Long Island, N.Y., sky, the two friends weren’t sure they would make it out alive.
“I felt pretty scared,” says BrianKate, 30, a transgender and intersex person who doesn’t identify as a male or female.
She and Jamie had just finished seeing a Winona Ryder film in August 2000 and were headed to BrianKate’s aunt’s home when a hoard of people began following them. Dressed in flannel shorts, a Nirvana T-shirt and work boots, BrianKate, who was living as a male then, wasn’t certain why they were being harassed. But BrianKate thinks it was her long hair.
“They didn’t necessarily see us as trans but as violating so-called rules based on gender stereotypes,” she says.
Although BrianKate and Jamie escaped the group’s wrath, Rita Hester wasn’t so lucky. Her murder in 1998 – like most anti-transgender murder cases – has yet to be solved. She, along with the others who have passed, will be honored at an annual vigil for Transgender Day of Remembrance at 7 p.m. Nov. 16 at the Metropolitan Community Church of Detroit in Ferndale.
This year, 21 transgender people were killed due to hate, according to Gender Advocacy and Education. “People are still dying,” BrianKate says. “… This kind of violence has not just gone away.”

Living in fear

BrianKate doesn’t often return to that neighborhood in Long Island. For a while, she even avoided going out at night.
“I used to be a lot more frightened,” she says.
And although she know lives in Ann Arbor and has only encountered one harassment incident, she still assures she’s aware of her surroundings.
“I can feel a lot safer (here), but I don’t take it for granted that this stuff can never happen anywhere,” she says.
Kevin Werner, 25, of Ypsilanti has never been verbally threatened, but he never puts the thought past him. “It’s more of an internal fear of something that might happen,” says Werner, who will perform in “The Gender Monologues” Nov. 20 at Eastern Michigan University.
If available at public outlets, Werner will use the uni-sex restroom instead of the men’s in fear that another man may see something that would reveal Werner’s born gender. “I fear a guy will rape me,” he confesses.
Michelle Fox-Phillips, who was picked on in junior high school and is an activist in the transgender community, recommends taking precautions at bars and clubs.
“If the trans person is driving and someone starts to follow then they should find the nearest police station,” she says. “Never let someone follow you home. For myself, I would always be in a public place where there are a lot of people.”

Taking action

BrianKate’s near-death incident motivated her to take action. First, she complained to the local police department for their mishandling of the situation. Then, she wrote articles for her campus paper. Now, BrianKate speaks to colleges locally and in Long Island on gender-based violence awareness.
She will be discussing trans issues on Nov. 17 as part of the Speakers’ Bureau for the LGBT Affairs at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. As an activist, she discusses how society labels genders with stereotypes, like “this is for guys and this is for girls,” and the hate it spurs.
“We have to let society know that we are just people too and not some freaks they see on T.V. or (in) print materials,” Fox-Phillips says. “This mass media perpetrates us as less than human.”
Because few states have laws that protect transgender and gender non-conforming rights, according to Gender Advocacy and Education, BrianKate would like hate crime legislature enforced.
The violence in the trans community has motivated Fox-Phillips to be more active on the issue as well. Her goal: try to change the perceptions that society has of transgender people.
“It was in the last eight years that I realized how much hate there is for our community,” she says. “These murders should not have happened. If society would accept us as individuals and we were able to transition without any discrimination, I doubt there would be so many victims.”
When Fox-Phillips first heard about Gwen Smith, who began the “Remembering Our Dead” project after Hester was murdered, she and her late partner Jamie Phillips-Fox wanted to help out.
Since then, Fox-Phillips has tried to convince law enforcement to take the transgender community more seriously. She sees the same problems locally with the police department as BrianKate did in Long Island.
“When one of our community (members) is murdered they just shrug it off as if it’s nothing,” Fox-Phillips says.
The road to stopping violence in the trans community could be long. BrianKate and Jamie may have feared for their lives underneath the Long Island sky. But their attackers, along with others, need to realize that we’re sharing the same one, Fox-Phillips says.
Werner adds, “There still needs to be a change so that people can live and not have to live in fear.”

{TAGLINE Chris Azzopardi is a staff writer for Between The Lines. To reach him, send an email to chris@pridesource.com}

About the Author:

Chris Azzopardi
As editor of Q Syndicate, the international LGBTQ wire service, Chris Azzopardi has interviewed a multitude of superstars, including Cher, Meryl Streep, Mariah Carey and Beyoncé. His work has also appeared in GQ, Vanity Fair and Billboard. Reach him via Twitter @chrisazzopardi.