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Transgender Homicide Victims Often Failed by Legal System: Report

Trans homicide victims

There are convictions in only a small percentage of cases, and there has been only one hate-crime conviction in a trans person's death over the past five years, Insider found.

From left: Nikki Kuhnhausen, Jaylow McGlory, and Zoe Spears

Most transgender homicide victims in the U.S. are Black women, and most of them knew their killers, but the legal system has failed them in many ways and few of their cases result in murder convictions, according to a new analysis by Insider.

The publication looked at 175 killings of trans and gender-nonconforming, nonbinary, and two-spirit people from 2017 through 2021. (The Advocate also independently tracks killings among this population.)

Insider found that there had been murder convictions in only 16 percent of these cases and a hate-crime conviction in only one -- the death of Nikki Kuhnhausen, a 17-year-old who was killed in Washington State in 2019. Her killer, David Bogdanov, was convicted in 2021 of second-degree murder and malicious harassment, the latter being a hate crime. He received the maximum sentence of 19 years and six months.

"It's even disturbing when I'm around like a gay person or somebody bi or transsexual or something," Bogdanov told a police officer, according to Insider.

Hate-crime charges have been filed in only two other deaths in the period covered by Insider -- those of Serena Angelique Velazquez and Layla Pelaez, friends who were killed in Puerto Rico in 2020. Those charges are still pending.

The publication noted that in many cases, police don't take trans people's identity or relationships seriously. When Jaylow McGlory was shot to death in Louisiana in 2017, she was widely misgendered, and police and prosecutors didn't acknowledge that she was in a relationship with her accused killer, Desmond Harris. Harris pleaded self-defense and was acquitted. This is one of many deaths of trans people involving intimate partner violence.

Sex workers are particularly vulnerable members of the trans population. Insider pointed out the deaths of Zoe Spears and Ashanti Carmon, killed within months and within blocks of each other in 2019 in a suburb of Washington, D.C. "The police continue to deny a connection between the two killings, something community members have trouble believing," Insider reports.

Police and the legal system have failed in other ways as well, according to the publication. In several cases where trans people have been killed by police, no charges have been filed, it reports. And in the case of Kenne McFadden, killed in 2017 in San Antonio, Mark Daniel Lewis told police, "Do you know the guy I was with on the River Walk? Well, I kind of pushed him in the river." Prosecutors didn't think a jury would sympathize with McFadden because she was trans, and a judge accepted Lewis's plea that he acted in self-defense. In nearly two-thirds of the cases studied, victims were misgendered or deadnamed by police.

Leaders in the criminal justice system "do not value trans lives, do not care to understand them, do not have any interest in humanizing these individuals as victims, and instead often really view them as blameworthy," criminologist Rayna Momen told Insider.

The publication also pointed out that Colorado Springs, which has a large Christian right presence, was a hotbed of anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment long before the mass shooting at Club Q, its only LGBTQ+ nightclub, last November. And the accused shooter often used a common homophobic slur and ran a website riddled with violent anti-LGBTQ+ and racist language, Insider reports.

But LGBTQ+ residents of Colorado Springs are vowing to forge on. "The shooting was a tragedy, but it strengthened their enemy," local trans woman Erin told Insider. "We still want to come together -- come together despite adversity."

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