12 Crimes That Changed the LGBT World
BY Diane Anderson-Minshall
May 07 2012 2:03 AM ET
A TWO-SPIRIT TRAGEDY
In the quiet of Cortez, Colo., in 2001, Fred “Frederica” C. Martinez Jr. — a 16-year-old transgender or “two-spirit” teen who loved Beyoncé so much he often went by her name — traveled to the Ute Mountain Roundup Rodeo. Five days later he was found dead in a sewer pond in a rocky canyon, an area the local teens call “the Pits,” his body decomposed and bludgeoned beyond recognition. Unlike with the Shepard murder, police and media attention was slow at first. Martinez’s mother, Pauline Mitchell, had called to report Martinez missing several times, but police didn’t return her calls until nearly 10 days after he disappeared.
Fred Martinez was a Native American two-spirit or nádleehí, what the Navajo call a male-bodied person with a feminine nature. He felt like a boy who was also a girl; a third gender that was both male and female. His family was accepting, and Martinez often dressed in feminine garb, a signature girl’s headband keeping wispy bangs out of his eyes. By all accounts from teachers, counselors, and friends, he was a healthy, happy, well-adjusted freshman at Montezuma-Cortez High School. But after the rodeo that night, Martinez met 18-year-old named Shaun Murphy at a party and accepted a ride from Murphy and one of his friends. The two dropped Martinez off, but he and Murphy met again later, and the reason has never been fully explained. Murphy later bragged that he had “beat up a fag.”
At the time, Martinez was the youngest person to die of a hate crime in the U.S. Murphy was later arrested and charged with second-degree murder, but both Mitchell and many victim advocates argued the local police should have investigated sooner and informed Mitchell of developments in the case. She reportedly read her child’s autopsy results in the local newspaper; it was the first she knew of the extent of his injuries, which included a slashed stomach, a fractured skull, and wounds to his wrists — and that he died from exposure and blunt trauma.
Murphy could not be charged with a hate crime because, at the time, Colorado’s hate-crime statutes did not cover crimes based on gender identity or expression. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder and was sentenced to 40 years on June 4, 2002. Ironically, Murphy’s mother, an out lesbian, claimed the 18-year-old wasn’t homophobic, before leaving the courthouse in tears.
Mitchell put photos of Martinez in both male and female dress on his coffin at the funeral, and her unconditional acceptance and fierce love inspired many to rally around her.
“Fred's death had an indescribable impact on his family of course,” says Renna, “but has also changed the local school, police, and rest of the community. The school now has polices related to bullying based on sexual orientation and last I heard, a GSA. The biggest change is the increased attention to LGBT youth issues in general — not just hate crimes, but bullying, suicide, and family acceptance and rejection of youth coming out.”
Renna points to the unprecedented surge in exhaustive media coverage of transgender and gender-nonconforming children, says Renna, “that is informed by the conversations about Fred and the concept of two-spirit people and the Native American culture that gave us this deeply nuanced and spiritual way of looking at gender and sexual diversity. As someone who works on these issues every day, it has been deeply moving to see the lives of these children and youth spoken about and covered with compassion and accuracy.”
Martinez was further memorialized in the documentary Two Spirits, a film a decade in the making that aired in 90% of the country and broke PBS viewing records, and had special screenings attended by over 50,000 people in 100 cities nationwide. In just 19 days, 5,000 people commented on the film and over 2 million read about it on Facebook. The film, which introduces the two-spirit concept to thousands of people who had no awareness of Native traditions around gender, is also up for a GLAAD Award this year.
“Fred and Pauline's stories have moved the hearts and minds of thousands, and I have seen firsthand the impact of this film,” Renna says. “The way the First Nations and Native American LGBT/two-spirit communities embraced the film is, to those of us involved, a powerful affirmation of all of the hard work it took to bring Fred's story to the screen.”