17 July 2009


As many people are aware, this morning the jury reached a verdict in the trial of Dwight DeLee for the murder of Lateisha Green.  That verdict was that DeLee was guilty of first-degree manslaughter as a hate crime, and of criminal possession of a weapon in the third degree.  I am relieved that the trial ended, and I hope that this verdict brings some small degree of closure to Green's friends and family, who have suffered tremendously in the months since Lateisha's murder.  I'm pleased to see that they have taken some solace in the ruling.

Personally, I am glad to see that the jury recognized that hatred against queer people (although the statute as written and interpreted applies only to actual and perceived sexual orientation) was behind this horrible crime.  I'm not a big fan of the manner in which our society uses prisons as a way of dealing with crime.  I don't feel that longer sentences deter crime.  However, I am tremendously upset that the jury did not recognize this crime for what it was-- murder.  In my opinion, pointing a gun inside a car window and firing represents an intent to kill somebody.  Further, while the jury did find Dwight DeLee guilty of a hate crime, I'm still concerned that the identity of the car's passengers may have impacted the way they viewed the crime.  I'm not a legal scholar, and am not aware of cases of other people who have been shot and killed in a similar manner, but I'd like to think that their cases brought murder convictions.

I don't share the excitement of many trans and LGBT organizations about hate crimes legislation.  I think that it's incredibly important that law enforcement gives a high priority to crimes committed on the basis of bigotry.  There is a long history of law enforcement agencies failing to adequately investigate and prosecute crimes against members of disadvantage groups, or even being complicit in those crimes.  Thankfully, that was far from the case in Syracuse, as it was in Greeley.  I also want the courts, the media and society to acknowledge the violence that occurs against minority communities.  However, I am less enthusiastic about arbitrary and extended sentences that the justice system may misuse.  We must not measure justice in the years of incarceration, but rather in the ability of all people to reach their full potential.

One of the things that struck me during this trial was the state's tremendous ability to wield power over arbitrary matters.  The judge was able to expel people from his courtroom at will, including Lateisha's mother, and just prior to the trial, a baby that was softly whimpering.  There were multiple armed court officers present to enforce the rules of the court.  The judge did not want people sending text messages from his courtroom, and his will was done.  Not only did a court officer demand that I remove my coffee from the courtroom, he also instructed me that it was unacceptable to return with my empty travel mug.  I saw officers confiscate water from members of the gallery.  In fact, the only way for those of us in the gallery to get water was to have a coughing fit, upon which time the judge might nod to an officer, who would pour and deliver a paper cup filled with court approved water to the parched observer.  Inside the courthouse and inside the courtroom, it was clear who held the power.

Everything that I mentioned above is, in my opinion, defensible at some level.  I don't mean to paint a picture of anything other than seasoned, courteous officials who were executing their duties.   Rather, my point is that there were lots of arbitrary rules, and that the county invested individuals with the power and resources to ensure that people followed those rules.

There was one rule that struck me as indefensible.  This was the insistence by attorneys, the judge, and government witnesses in referring to Lateisha Green by her legal name and male pronouns.  I understand that this practice wasn't personal per se.  As the victim of this crime, Green wasn't present, and official documents listed a name and gender that by all accounts, she didn't identify with.  However, identity is personal, almost tautologically so.  The whole business might have struck me as a silly game, were it not for the impact that it had.  Because of the bizarre legal requirements set up by a cissexual establishment, Lateisha Green all but vanished from a trial about her very death, and yes, very identity.  I find it tragically ironic that during the very trial where a young man was found guilty of killing Lateisha Green because of his profound disrespect for her identity, the legal system disrespected Ms. Green in its own way.  This delegitimizing of Lateisha's identity certainly did nothing to dissuade much of the local media from insisting on using her birth name and refusing to accept her womanhood in its coverage.  To me, the whole trial consisted of one big mixed message-- what I took from the government witnesses, the attorneys and the judge (whatever their intent) was that they believed killing a human being was wrong, regardless of how "different" they might be.  I suppose this is progress for trans people, but it's hardly an out-and-out victory.

As I've said, the authorities have shown that they are capable of displays of power for multiple ends, be it maintaining an orderly courtroom, or ensuring the sanctity of legally acceptable identities.  The issue is that real justice often isn't found in a courtroom.  Lateisha Green's family complained that she had been bullied and harassed throughout the four years following her coming out.  They had complained to school officials, and others, but I'm not sure that anyone ever lifted a finger to stop this bullying.  Green's mother reported hearing nasty comments in the courtroom.  I heard rumors of the harassment of LGBT friends of the Green family in the hallway outside of the courtroom.  I saw that the news media has footage of a fight between the Green and DeLee families outside of the courthouse.  What I did not hear about was any of numerous court officials stepping in to stop this harassment.

Don't get me wrong, the district attorney is looking into allegations of witness intimidation.  They appear to be taking Mark Cannon's statement that he was threatened with a gun seriously.  This morning, there was a very visible police presence outside the courthouse, presumably to prevent any violence.

It's not that people in power aren't doing their jobs, it's that their job descriptions are wrong.  Prevention of violence needs to be proactive, not reactive.  Those in power need to use their actions to affirm the value of all human beings.  This means taking bullying seriously.  This means speaking up.  If we're ever going to get to the just society that so many people surrounding this trial spoke of, we're going to need that same establishment that so ably controlled the flow of courtroom water to respect people's identities.  We need school teachers to take bullying seriously, rather than participating in it.  We need citizens to speak up when they see injustice.

I know that there are court cases to be heard and legislative battles to be fought, but let's not wait that long.  Justice isn't just about using the system to protect ourselves-- it's about fighting to replace an arbitrary system with one that values the dignity of all human expression.  Judging from the leadership that Lateisha's friends and family and members of the near-Westside community have shown, we're already on the road to that point.

I may add links later; at this point I'm looking for (and writing because) I need a certain degree of closure myself.  I definitely need to take a break (starting now) to spend some time with my family, my hobbies and my career.  However, watching these painful events unfold has certainly galvanized my desire to become a more effective advocate for change within our community.

16 July 2009

Comments for Thursday A.M.

As of this writing, the trial of Dwight DeLee has gone to the jury for deliberations.

Laura Vogel of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TDLEF) has been posting thorough summaries of the testimony.  At the moment, I'm not inclined to discuss much other than pointing folks to the summaries, which describe in graphic and uncomfortable detail the events of November 14.  Here are links to TDLEF's summaries for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Here are a couple of observations for future consideration:

In both the defense and the prosecution's closing statements, attorneys referred to Star using a male name (presumably her birth and/or legal name) followed by her name.  All attorneys used female pronouns in reference to her.

The defense attorney stated that on the evening of November 14, Lateisha Green [referred to using her birth name] was wearing nothing "that says this is a person a different sexual orientation."

Chief Assistant DA Doran reminded the jury that the hate crimes statute is written to include crimes based both on actual and perceived sexual orientation: "It's not about whether [Lateisha Green] was gay (we know he [sic] was)."

I need to let a certain amount of time pass before I write anything substantial, but I do want to make the observation that there is no reason why attorneys could not simultaneously respect Lateisha Green's identity while simultaneously seeking a hate crimes conviction on the basis of perceived sexual orientation.  The lack of nuance on the part of those who ridiculed Mark Cannon, Teish, and Star is neither inconsistent with the application of a hate crimes enhancement, nor is it justification to disrespect Lateisha Green's identity.

My perception is that the attorneys' decisions to refer to Lateisha Green as if she were a gay man is either strategic or related to their interpretation of their duties as professionals.  I find the whole situation infuriating, and at some point may make more pointed comments about the judge and attorneys, and a legal system imbued with cissexual privilege.  I want to challenge that privilege and those who perpetuate it, but I also am convinced that all parties involved were acting in a highly professional manner, and in a very respectful manner (within the context of that privilege).
Also, I want to voice my annoyance at seeing the local media refer to Lateisha Green as a transgender person or transgender individual.  These statements are true, but it offends me to see media outlets avoid referring to her as a woman, either through ignorance or otherwise.

15 July 2009

Trial Notes, Day 3 am

Just some quick notes before I need to head to work for the day:

Prior to the start of the day's proceedings, Judge Walsh addressed the gallery to express his displeasure with a melee that occurred yesterday. He said that the event was a disgrace to the life and legacy of the victim (using her birth name), who was 'a peaceful man.'

In testimony from Erica Allison (I'm unsure about the spelling of her last name), one of the prosecuting attorneys asked her about Lateisha Green's sexuality (using her birth name). Ms. Allison replied that 'he was a female.' The prosecutor then attempted to clarify this statement by asking 'so, he was a man dressed as a woman?' Ms. Allison answered yes. An identical exchange occurred with respect to Star, a trans woman who was in the car seated behind Mark Cannon and Lateisha Green.

During cross-examination, the defense asked Ms. Allison if Green was 'dressed as female' the night of the 14th. Ms. Allison responded in the negative, stating that Green (using her birth name) was wearing a t-shirt, pants, and a head scarf and that his[sic] hair was not done up nice as it often was.

Personally, I'm upset to see the Judge erase Lateisha Green's identity. This morning's comments were part of a continuing pattern that I've seen from the prosecuting and defense attorneys, as well as witnesses. My blood pressure spikes at the term "man dressed as a woman", particularly in this context. I understand that transgender and gender non-conforming individuals have diverse ways of vocalizing their identities, and as I've previously noted, I never met Lateisha Green. However, I find these exchanges deeply troubling. Lastly, I'm upset about what I see as a trend within the trial that mirrors society's double standard with respect to trans women and clothing. As other folks have repeatedly elaborated, a shirt and pants is standard dress for many, many women. Expecting trans women to dress in erotic, flashy or "flamboyant" manners, confounding trans identities with homosexual ones, and confounding these identities with offensive stereotypes of gay males is, well, offensive.

I need to run, and won't be at the trial again until tomorrow. I assume TLDEF will post a thorough summary of the proceedings tonight.

14 July 2009

Limited Personal Comments on Day 2 of the Lateisha Green trial

I’m going to be fairly limited in what I post about the trial for a number of reasons.  First, I don’t want to overshadow the public statements of Lateisha Green’s friends and family by replaying the minutae of the trial.  Along those lines, there are a number of non-profit, activist groups who are putting out responsible, carefully-worded and important statements about events surrounding the trial.  Second, I don’t quite feel right about retelling all of the details of the evening of November 14, 2008 to the broader world.  Frankly, I don’t enjoy hearing most of the details.  I’m fairly sure that all parties touched by the events aren’t particularly thrilled about reliving that night, much less about having the details retold over-and-over on the internet.  I would rather leave it to those more intimately tied to the murder of Lateisha Green and the subsequent criminal proceedings to post any such details, were they to deem it appropriate.

Before I make my limited observations, I’d also like to comment about my presence at the trial.  I wrestled with whether or not to attend the trial, and whether or not to blog about it.  I’ve been attending the proceedings because I take the murder of Lateisha Green personally.  I’ve dealt with adversity in my life as a trans person—far less adversity than many (if not most) transsexual people deal with, yet far more than is acceptable.  I’m familiar with the sobering stories of many trans friends, acquaintances and strangers.  Listening to accounts by Green’s family, I am struck by how much love and support she was surrounded with, and how full of life she must have been.  Based on what I’ve heard, it seems to me that in many ways Lateisha Green had a support network that many trans people would be envious of—the sort of support than all human beings deserve.  Yet this was not enough to protect Lateisha from harassment and violence.  I cannot tell you how much this saddens me.  I am attending the trial because I’m hoping that the addition of one more person in the gallery will be a small gesture of support to Lateisha’s friends and family during this difficult time, and because my publically taking notice of the trial sends a message to the community that one more person takes violence (violence writ large, violence against trans people, and violence against a trans person, Lateisha Green) seriously.  I also want to verify that the criminal justice system not only takes the tragic taking of Lateisha Green seriously, but also that those involved do justice to Lateisha by respecting her identity.

Here are comments on three things:

The use of names and pronouns

Throughout testimony for the prosecution that I witnessed (prior to 3:30 p.m.), authorities (multiple police officers, an EMT, and a medical examiner) referred to Ms. Green by her birth name, and used male pronouns in reference to her.  The prosecution and defense did likewise.

I’m not sure what I’d expect, given that Ms. Green’s birth name was also her legal name.  I never met Ms. Green and am loathe to ascribe her with an identity based on my experiences, although given statements from her family that she had been living as Teish for 4 years, and their consistent use of female pronouns in reference to her, this use of names and pronouns troubles me.  I don’t want to speculate about the degree to which the usage of names and pronouns is due to cissexual perspectives on gender, or the degree to which the hate crimes designation is a consideration in how the prosecution has treated Ms. Green’s identity.


When asked by the defense whether he noticed anything about Lateisha Green in respect to her sexuality, a police officer refered to her as a man dressed “flamboyantly” and as ‘a man dressed as a woman.’  During cross-examination, the defense discussed the specific clothing Ms. Green was wearing when the officer was observing her medical treatment, and stated that the clothing was not “flamboyant.”

While discussing the external portion of the autopsy, the chief county medical examiner gave a description of Lateisha Green’s underwear, followed by the observation that the sizing of said underwear was consistent with a woman’s undergarment.  The defense objected to this statement, which led to a conference at the bench, after which the prosecution and witness moved on to other subjects.

I’m not going to deconstruct all of this, but again, I personally find all of the above statements troubling.  In my opinion, popular depictions of trans women frequently pay undue attention to details of clothing, particularly undergarments.  The term "flamboyant", and phrase 'man dressed as a woman' are, in my opinion, very loaded.  Presumably, much of this testimony and the back-and-forth about it is related to the hate crimes charge.

A point about an EMT

One of the police officers on the scene testified that an EMT who was treating Ms. Green hesitated after cutting away her shirt revealed a bra.  The officer testified that he told the EMT to keep going, and that Ms. Green was a man.

It’s important to note that the hesitation that the witness mentioned was inconsequential in terms of the medical treatment that Ms. Green received.  There was no discussion of or elaboration on the length of the presumably momentary hesitation.  Again, in light of other testimony during the trial, I see this hesitation as inconsequential with respect to the trial, and Ms. Green's death.  However, as a transsexual woman living in Syracuse, I find this testimony deeply troubling.  I see obvious parallels (and differences) with the death of Tyra Hunter.  Again, I don’t want to make mountains out of molehills, but I’d also prefer to believe that one’s gender identity and expression does not impact the quality of emergency medical care that one receives.

There were lots of other developments today, but I’m assuming that TDLEF or others will touch on them.  I’m not in a mood to discuss all of the minutiae of the trial, and I also don’t want to discuss things that I’m not prepared to discuss in an unemotional manner.

12 July 2009

Hope and Community in Syracuse

I'm in an optimistic mood this weekend, and much of it is because of two community events. In my experience, online community can bring people together, but to me, it can also make me feel isolating. I'm not sure what the rules are forming online communities, but they seem much more structured than offline ones. Online communities are often founded on common values. Offline, I often find myself in communities that are determined by proximity. Anyhow, here are two uplifting community responses to anti-LGBT bigotry in Syracuse.

Over last weekend, someone defaced a local art gallery by writing "There is no such thing as a proud queer" on a window. This isn't the first time I've seen bigoted graffiti in my neighborhood, nor the first the gallery was vandalized. In any case, Rose Viviano, the woman who runs the gallery, decided to mount a community response. Amit Taneja and Laura Hannahs organized a website for queer Central New Yorkers and their allies to send in pictures. On Friday, the gallery held a community gathering, where volunteers hung copies of the pictures sent in to the blog.

On Saturday, friends and families of Lateisha Green held a celebration of her life.  It was inspiring to see the mix of people in attendance, all to stand up against injustice and to celebrate the value of life.  One of the biggest things I took out of the event was the importance of showing up, and standing up.  To paraphrase the woman who was leading the events (and it kills me that I can't remember her name), it's not always important to have a polished message or to have a master plan-- what is important is to stand up and not let injustice pass unnoticed.  Doing so creates and strengthens community, and allows us to get through the tough times.

10 July 2009

Coming in 2011

Meg Ryan gets no solace from a turtle tortoise hand puppet:

Judd Apatow tells charming off-color jokes to his daughter's rabbit, over beer:

I save you $8.50

Mel Gibson has announced that his next movie will involve a depressed man who finds solace in putting a beaver on his hand.

I can has Oscar?

09 July 2009

Notes from Syracuse

This is difficult for me to write about, and I really hope I strike the right tone. I really, really appreciate the hard work that everyone in the trans, LGBTQ communities and our allies have placed on publicizing the senseless violence that takes places against trans people. I love that much (albeit not all) of the discussion has kept the humanity of the victims front and center. Nobody deserves to be murdered, much less to have their identity stripped away after the fact by the media, and by defense attorneys looking to justify the taking of a life. Lateisha Green’s murder troubles me deeply. I’m a transsexual woman and a mother. Talking about the taking away of somebody’s child because of who they makes me nauseous. I won’t be surprised if I spend much of the next week trying to stay away from news of the trial, because I simply can’t take it. I understand the need to focus on the horrifying consequences—and the need to prevent homophobia and transphobia (yes, the two are intertwined, and yes, that’s a discussion that’s been ongoing elsewhere).

Something about the response to Lateisha Green’s murder troubles me, though. I live in Syracuse. My friends and neighbors live in Syracuse. I feel the need to point out that crimes like Lateisha’s murder don’t happen in a vacuum. Furthermore, while violence against trans and gender non-conforming people is one of “my” issues, something I take very personally, I also care about all of my friends and neighbors, be they cisgender or transgender. When I see people from around the country speaking up about one of my neighbors’ lives being treated as disposable due to her identity, while remaining unaware or ignoring the rest of my city, I feel uneasy. I live here, and this city’s issues are my issues. How can I expect my neighbors to fight for my rights, when people like me seem hesitant to fight for my neighbors’ rights?

Don’t get me wrong—anti-LGBT bigotry is an important fight for all of us. Community leaders in the near-Westside neighborhood where Green lived (including Green’s mother) are working to provide LGBT youth of color with a space safe from all the hostility and violence they often face. Just this week, my neighborhood is participating in a constructive response to anti-queer vandalism (for a look at what some folks are willing to say anonymously to get a rise out of people, check out the comment thread on the newspaper coverage of the incident).

However, it’s also important to address the perceived disposability of other parts of the community. Upstate New York is not disposable. Syracuse is not disposable, nor are other urban areas. The poor are not disposable. People of color are not disposable. People with disabilities are not disposable. Young people are not disposable. This shouldn’t be news to readers, yet on many levels, power structures treat the above groups (and many other) like garbage. This needs to change. A focus on the issues of LGBT people is important, but it’s not enough to fix our communities nor is it all that is required to give many trans people the quality of life that they, like all people, deserve.

Why am I so upset? Well, here’s part of what I see in my city: I see rampant violence within groups of young men. I recall rerouting a recent trip out due to a massive brawl in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day. The issue here isn’t that I was inconvenienced. However, things seem to have gotten far too out of hand when violence is creating a traffic hazard, in addition to less frivolous concerns, such as the loss of a life earlier this week. A neighbor of mine who is about to be redeployed to Iraq complained that our neighborhood was more dangerous than Baghdad, and confessed his hesitancy to leave his loved one behind. I sense a heavy dose of hyperbole. Still, it is troubling when you hear someone emptying a magazine across the street from the playground where you take your child. While I’m not behind the drug war, I’m not at all torn about having to kick drug paraphernalia out of the reach of my daughter when we’re on walks, or about the strung out junkie who broke into a neighbors’ locked apartment and began rifling through her couch while she slept, only to be chased off by her mother. It’s painful to watch a city that at times seems on the verge of an outright race war, with epitats of all types clouding all parts of the city; the sidewalk, the grocery store, the playground, the post office. Regardless of your race, you simply can’t escape the threat of racially motivated harassment if you spend any time here. Of course, you can’t always escape violence, either; earlier this year a 14-year old sniper shot and killed a man as he got in his car to start the second shift.

There’s no single reason why so many of us experience such futility and violence. The economy certainly hasn’t helped. The latest recession has cost greater Syracuse some of its last manufacturing jobs, with Syracuse China and New Process Gear moving jobs out of the country, and Crucible Materials preparing to fold in the face of a disastrous market for American steel. As an Eastern outpost of the rust belt, this is simply an extension of a decades-long decline, marked by previous blows such as Carrier corporation’s foreign outsourcing. Speaking of the lack of media coverage that the media has given Green’s murder, economic considerations led Syracuse’s CBS affiliate (arguably the most community oriented station in town) to close its newsroom and effectively merge with our NBC affiliate, costing us jobs, and limiting the number of corporate perspectives of current events.

In addition to the economy, Syracuse is faced with the same crises as many other cities. We can measure the distain in which the powers that be hold us in slashed school budgets funded by unfair mechanisms, the environmental degradation of poor neighborhoods of color (and yes, segregation is an issue), in underfunded and borderline useless mass transit systems and the general lack of effective health and human service programs for many folks not privileged enough to live outside of the city’s South side (or the North side, or the East side).

What’s being done to allow all of the chance of upward mobility, or at least to be treated with dignity while we live in poverty? Thanks in large part to Gerrymandering, a city Republican and two conservative Democrats from outside Onondaga county are supposed to be representing us in the State Senate. Of course, if you’re playing along at home, you know that the Senate is (or until this evening was) in deadlock, as members of both parties court a tax cheat who openly flaunts campaign finance laws and a man indicted on two felony counts for beating his girlfriend. This whole schism largely seems to have been paid for by the former richest man in New York State, who recently moved his official residence to Florida in order to avoid paying his fair share of taxes. Of course, it’s not entirely clear that his tax dollars would have gone to help the majority of Syracuse residents, considering the incredible corruption in New York State government. While hundreds of millions of dollars of tax breaks went to help a developer build a “green” shopping mall (that may never be completed) finding the means to create *actual* jobs that pay a living wage has been elusive.

You could write a book (and people have) about what’s behind the violence within the poorer pockets of this (or any other) city, particularly among young men. Certainly, there are problematic issues with outdated, violent visions of respect and masculinity, and it takes strong families to keep children on the right path. However, it’s all too easy to blame violence on laziness or otherwise imperfect families, and doing so misses a massive part of the story. We as a society systematically disrespect the poor and people of color. The power structure in this country helps ensnare people in poverty. While violence is never excusable, much of our country seems to leave young men with very few outlets with which to make a living, or which to gain status within a community. This is complicated stuff, and discussions of it are fraught with peril—particularly discussion that involve a diverse audience. However, if we don’t all engage in a critical analysis of our actions and force ourselves to engage in dialogue on the tough issues, we’re merely enabling a culture where lots of human lives, LGBT or otherwise are treated as disposable. To me, the tragedy of Latiesha Green’s murder lies not only in the taking away of a human life for no good reason, but with my fellow white LGBT’s repeated unwillingness to consider the countless other lives snuffed out in Green’s neighborhood, or the rest of my city, or all of urban America, for no good reason. This stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum.