My post, "Transgender woman and her boyfriend murdered in Indianapolis," has created quite a bit of conversation -- both on the Bilerico Project and in certain circles in Indiana. I've just finished an interview with an Indianapolis Star reporter about my criticism of local media reporting and offensive police statements; it seems the appropriate time to bring everyone up to date and clarify exactly what I'm seeking.
After a double homicide over the holiday weekend, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department (IMPD) held a press conference to release details about the crime. IMPD released two male names and mug shots of the victims, commented on the victims' criminal histories and said the two lived "an alternative lifestyle." One of the victims was transgender; the other was her boyfriend.
To IMPD's credit, it doesn't appear that they identified the gender of either victim. Instead, the spokesperson referred to two "individuals" or "people" or similar gender nonspecific language.
The local media, however, were not as respectful. Every media outlet used the mugshot pictures with her male name printed beneath. While NBC and ABC used gender neutral language, FOX, CBS and the Indianapolis Star identified them as "two men."
Other than the terminology "alternative lifestyle," the rest of the offenses could easily be explained by a simple lack of knowledge. It is possible that the media didn't realize either victim was transgender when they filed their reports. But these circumstances highlight the tendency of law enforcement, the legislature and the media to whitewash LGBT issues in Indiana including overlooking violence against our community.
When I saw the original story online, I immediately suspected that the person named as "Avery Elzy" was trans. After I published my post, Projectors quickly identified her as Layia Lovely, a sex worker. The other victim, Michael Hunt, was identified as her boyfriend. On WISH-TV's website, a commenter who claims to be a friend of the deceased identifies her as Taysia (or Taysha) Elzy, suggesting that "Layia Lovely" was a name she used for sex work.
While the media can be given a pass for their original reporting, it's striking that a passing suggestion on a blog can uncover the fact that Taysia Elzy was transgender, pictures of her looking as she presented, her name, some past history and identify the other victim as her boyfriend while professional journalists can't do a little bit of digging. Instead, even though they were handed IMPD's offensive "alternative lifestyle" codeword for "queers," none of the news sources even suggested they were gay or a couple. Instead, the case was "straightwashed," with all LGBT issues brushed aside by both the media and the police department.
If IMPD had simply stated that Taysia Elzy was transgender, the media might have reported it correctly. Also known as the "I'm too lazy to do my own research" excuse, it does have some merit though. To put it bluntly, from the pornographic pictures commenters have linked to, it appears highly unlikely that the police didn't realize Elzy was trans. Why then, would they choose to remain mum about this detail?
The Media, the Legislature and the Police Are Guilty Too
Hate crimes don't happen in Indiana -- technically -- because we are one of five states not to have a hate crimes law. Rep Jackie Walorski's poison pill amendment to include a fetus as a protected class always kills the legislation. Our legislators don't have the backbone to stand up to one Republican abortion nut long enough to send the message that Hoosiers will not tolerate violence against minority groups like African-Americans, the elderly, the LGBT community, Catholics, the disabled, etc.
They also lack the chutzpah to ban employment and housing discrimination against the LGBT community -- something the state capital and other cities did years ago. Instead, Republican legislators have often pushed an amendment to ban same-sex marriage and civil unions -- even though recognizing our relationships is already against the law and no marriages or civil unions have been performed! Why worry about legislation that could help people when bogeymen like abortion and gay marriage are available?
Years ago, the legislature did manage to pass a "hate crimes reporting" law -- so they could see if Hoosiers needed a hate crimes law, of course. The requirements to report hate crimes yearly to the state and FBI is often disregarded by police agencies statewide. No hate crimes reported means we obviously don't need a hate crimes law, goes the logic.
The media is complicit in this conspiracy to erase anti-LGBT violence from public view. While I wrote about a possible hate crime in South Bend and another in Muncie, the mainstream media gave both stories short shrift. Our coverage a few months ago of the double homicide of an elderly Indianapolis couple was more extensive than most local media sources. We were the first to conclusively state that Taysia Elzy was transgender. These stories aren't highlighted for their commonality and they definitely can't be used to force police departments to report possible hate crimes reported in the media. Those numbers could then be turned over to the FBI and state legislature so Hoosiers can "prove" we need to discourage violence against minority groups.
This twisted mess of false logic and bureaucracy leaves all three with blood on their hands.
Where Do We Go From Here?
In my last post I said, "Indianapolis is proving to the LGBT community that our city isn't sensitive to our concerns, lacks basic knowledge of our needs, and could absolutely care less."
Projector Larry highlighted that statement and added this nugget of truth, "I'm from the West Coast, but I went to Ball State, and I would say the above statement applies to the whole state of Indiana."
Indiana is not known as an LGBT-friendly place to live. Jerame and I often talk about moving away to someplace safer and welcoming. Indiana, however, is where we were both raised; our families -- our roots -- are here. Should we have to move to gain basic respect by our state government and the police?
There are three lessons that Hoosiers can take from this horrible tragedy and the resultant mess of press coverage and media relations.
- The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department should have a liaison with the LGBT community. The Latino and African-American communities have liaisons and with four LGBT folk murdered in the past few months, it is time we were given the same respect. Perhaps all of the incidents have nothing at all to do with the victims' sexual orientation or gender identity, but we simply don't know. The only information given comes from the mass media -- which has already proven itself unreliable on LGBT issues. By establishing direct communication with our community, we can be reassured, warned or consulted in cases like these.
- Indiana should immediately pass a hate crimes law. We are one of five states left in the nation without a hate crimes law on the books. The version offered last year simply allowed the judge the discretion to add extra time to a defendant's sentence if the crime was motivated by bias against a covered group. It had nothing to do with "hate speech" or freedom of speech and even less to do with fetuses. It's time to get real about sending a clear message that violence against minorities isn't acceptable in Indiana. We should also enforce the hate crimes reporting law -- once we've given police departments a solid definition of a hate crime.
- Indiana should immediately pass employment, housing, and public accommodation protections for the LGBT community. The right to keep your job based on your job performance is easy to understand. The security of knowing that you can't be denied housing because of your sexuality or gender identity should be a possibility for all Hoosiers. These are two basic rights that your average Indiana resident most often don't even realize we're excluded from. By alleviating the constant worry over our incomes, our housing and our basic recognitions by our local government, the legislature would do more for LGBT Hoosiers than they could ever imagine -- since they already have those same protections.
Indiana's history with LGBT Hoosiers is extremely negative. We've been afforded little respect outside of some town and city ordinances. We're regularly fired for who we love, denied apartments by prejudiced landlords, targeted for violence, disrespected by the police, disregarded by the media and overlooked by the majority of our state government.
It's time to turn this around. I
want need to feel safe in my home. I want need to be an equal citizen. I want need to be afforded the same respect Hoosiers give each other. The three points above could easily solve all of those.
Or will we get brushed under the rug yet again?
(Crossposted from Bilerico Project. Since there will be a completely different audience over there, feel free to join both conversations. If you'd like to stay up to date on this case, subscribe to our daily digest e-mail.)