Gender Prison: Transpeople, the DOJ, and Sage Smith

December 5 was the anniversary of the founding of the National Center for Transgender Equality, so the organization was holding their 9th Anniversary Awards Reception. And they invited Deputy Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Roy L. Austin, Jr. to speak. There is a slideshow of the event, which was held at the National Press Club ballroom, here.

Austin said that the DOJ has and will continue to use its law enforcement powers to fight anti-transgender discrimination, claiming that the department has investigated and taken action against hate crimes, school bullying, and biased policing that target the transgender community.

Now under the leadership of Assistant Attorney General Tom Perez, the Civil Rights Division has never been stronger and the fight for transgender equality has never been fought more forcefully.

--Austin

On the inside I will continue the report on Austin's presentation while attempting to control my boundless cynicism.

As evidence Austin pointed out the intervention in New Orleans, where the Civil Rights division obtained a consent decree requiring police officials to put in place special training on transgender-related issues following an investigation into reports of improper police behavior toward transgender women in the enforcement of a controversial anti-prostitution law (which has since been changed).

Basically members of the NOPD have made the common assumption that all transwomen who appear in public must be doing so for the purposes of prostitution.

The division claims to be currently working on a similar effort to reduce or eliminate similar anti-transgender bias in police departments in Puerto Rico.

Law enforcement is sworn to serve and protect everyone. And we will continue to teach them how to do this and hold them accountable when they don’t.

--Austin

Austin also claimed that the DOJ intervened in cases of anti-transgender school bullying in Minnesota and California.

Every school year bullying touches the lives of countless kids, their families and their communities.

For gender non-conforming and transgender students it can be much worse.

Often what happens in schools reflect what is happening in society as a whole. Together with our federal partners at the Department of Education we’re exploring ways to hold schools accountable and to stop harassment and bullying before it starts.

The problem goes beyond the schools. But what we do there is incredibly important because today’s bullies may well grow up to be tomorrow’s hate crime defendants.

--Austin, who also noted that studies show bullying can have a devastating and potentially long-term impact on young people

Austin said President Obama and Attorney General Holder are committed to aggressively enforcing the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Hate Crimes Prevention Act. Austin said that 5 of the 40 people who have been prosecuted under the Act since it was signed in 2009 have been convicted for physically harassing others because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

I guess they need a better case before they are successful in regards to gender identity.

Austin said that the wider significance of the Shepard-Byrd Act have been the provisions calling for education and training.

We’ve provided hate crimes training to thousands of law enforcement officers and to community activists throughout the country. Among other things, this education spreads the message that our transgender community is a vital part of the American community and must be treated with respect.

--Austin

And, oh, yeah. There were awards. The Julie Johnson Founder's Award was presented to Gunner Scott, Executive Director of the MassachusettsTransgender Political Coalition; the Distinguished Ally Award to Andrew Barnett, Executive director of the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League (SMYAL); and the Community Partner Award to Lauree Hayden, Deputy National Political Director of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Apparently they don't have a blogging award.

The case of the moment, which the DOJ has not involved itself in as far as I know, is the disappearance of Sage Smith, 19, in Charlottesville, VA. She was last heard from on November 20. She had a date with Erik Tyquan McFadden, who police interviewed early on but has since disappeared. Smith and McFadden were scheduled to meet at the Charlottesville Amtrak station. McFadden claims she never showed up.

McFadden (right) has not been named as a person of interest in the disappearance, but police say they have more questions for him.

Smith's family are outraged at the city's response.

A family member of missing Charlottesville teenager DaShad "Sage" Smith lambasted the city’s response to his disappearance Monday night, saying that the city’s black, poor and gay communities "are not feeling safe."

Chief, the police department has not done what it’s supposed to do to find our child.

--Kenneth Jackson, family spokesperson, to Police Chief Timothy J. Longo

The family questions why the FBI and state resources have not been utilized in the search. The local trans community wonder why none of the local political figures bothered to show up at a vigil held in Sage's behalf, which was attended by over 100 people…and why they only refer to Smith by a male name and with male pronouns. But the latter is also done by Smith's family and friends.

I just feel honestly that my grandson is somewhere hurt. We are all at a loss because we don’t know what to do or who to talk to.

--Smith’s grandmother, Lolita Smith

Members of the local LGBT community are wondering if the sexual orientation/gender identity of the victim is why there has been almost no interest by the news media in the disappearance. A straight white child missing for 20 days would certainly not have been ignored. When Virginia Tech student Morgan Dana Harrington, 20, went missing after a Metallica concert in 2009, the news was on the case 24/7 until her body was discovered 3 months later.

Smith came out as gay at the age of 16 and began dressing as a female at age 17.

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Full-disclosure:

Robyn's picture

I was trained by the US Army to be a law enforcement officer. That is a source of some of my cynicism. Some of the rest of it stems from the low-key nature of the DOJs efforts. When has any government agency ever been so camera shy while avoiding self-promotion?

But ultimately the proof is in the pudding. And the Sage Smith pudding appears to have a thick skin on top.

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