The first ever prosecution of a hate crime against a transgender person was just completed, and the victim’s family has found some semblance of justice. Mercedes Williamson was murdered in 2015 when she was only 17 by Joshua Vallum because she was transgender, according to The Guardian.
Williamson was stabbed and beaten while in Mississippi by Vallum, whom she met up with as a romantic interest–she traveled from Alabama to meet him for the first time when she was attacked. While Vallum initially disputed killing her because of her gender identity, he later admitted this, according to the Sun Herald.
The complicated thing about the case, however, is the fact that Mississippi has no state statute protecting people’s gender identities–so even though Vallum pleaded guilty to Williamson’s murder and was sentenced to life in prison, federal prosecutors had to bring a second case against him.
Doesn’t this frustrate you endlessly? Why should it actually make a difference?
The Guardian explained how a pioneering and famous 2009 hate crime law helped the case: “in 2009, Congress expanded a federal hate crime law to include crimes motivated by a victim’s sexual orientation among other factors.” The law is named after two victims of horrific hate crimes: The Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.
This is why a federal judge was able to sentence Vallum to a 49-year prison sentence for the crime, as the law criminalizes violent acts related to gender identity, sexual orientation, race or religion. Violence against transgender people is too common:
“According to a 2015 NCTE survey, nearly one in 10 US trans people said they had been physically attacked because of being transgender in the year prior to completing the survey.”
The Human Rights Campaign also tracked the murders of at least 22 transgender people in 2016. Already 10 transgender people have been killed in 2017. The sad reality is that a good number of the LGBTQ community (24% to be exact) live in states where hate crime laws don’t include gender or sexual identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project. This is not OK–and needs to change, as teens and adults like Williamson do not deserve to die at the hands of violence because of their identity.
I’ve been lucky as a queer-identifying person to live in a place where hate crimes against LGBTQ are not as common (thanks NYC)–and are protected under law–but not everyone can move just because the law is not written in their favor, nor should they be forced to. While I’ve experienced verbal harassment and frustrating comments from strangers in the past, as have many people in the LGBTQ community no matter where they live (which is wrong), living in fear of one’s safety is not acceptable. And this is something we need to teach our kids and teens, so less people grow up with hate in their hearts.