By Leslie McMurray
My Sunday afternoon was interrupted with the news that Muhlaysia Booker was dead. This is the same transgender woman of color who was beaten to unconsciousness by a mob in Oak Cliff on April 12.
We are hearing that she was shot to death sometime early Saturday morning in old East Dallas. The suspect in her aggravated assault, Edward Thomas, was released on bond last week. As of this writing there are no suspects in custody for her murder.
Those are the few facts available for now. What we are left with are feelings of heartbreak and sadness. After the tears came, there was anger.
I’m heartbroken, and I am angry that transgender women continue to die at the hands of others.
So far, the motive for Muhlaysia’s murder has not been determined. That motive could have been something other than who she was as a trans woman. But when a trans woman of color dies, the first thing that comes to mind is that she was the victim of a transphobic hate crime.
Sadly, in Texas, there is no hate crime law that includes protections for trans people. Not that we haven’t tried. State Rep. Garnet Coleman of Houston has tried to pass hate crime legislation that would include “sexual orientation, gender identity or expression” for the past six sessions — to no avail.
I drove to Austin on April 29 to testify before the Texas House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, to plead with lawmakers to pass HB 1513, which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to the Texas hate crime law.
When this bill was called, committee Vice Chair Bill Zedler got up and walked out. He wouldn’t even listen to stories of Malaysia’s brutal hate-based attack or of just how common this is and why the protection is needed by law enforcement and prosecutors as another tool with which to prosecute the vermin that commit these crimes against people like me because of who we are.
Those committee members who remained did listen, and they seemed to really understand why these protections are needed. Several of those who testified shared details of the attack on Muhlaysia and even their own experiences being the victim of bias-motivated violence.
No committee member spoke out against the bill; there were only questions and compassion.
One person testified against HB 1513, and that person was a paid staff member from the ultra-conservative (and mis-named) “Texas Values.”
At the conclusion of the testimony, HB 1513 was listed as pending. It was never voted out of committee.
Clearly there is a need for sexual orientation and gender identity to be included in these protections. Yet time after time, session after session, hate crime protections elude us. We are apparently not worthy.
The message sent to the LGBTQ community is that protecting us isn’t a priority. I’m grateful to Rep. Coleman for his continued efforts, and wish I could have said something to the committee members that would have inspired them to pass this important bill on to the full House for a vote.
Hate crime protections don’t protect victims from violence. They do punish those who commit these crimes out of hatred for who we are.
Ultimately, transgender women will be safe in public when hearts and minds are changed, when the public understands that people in the LGBTQ community are no threat to anyone. We just want to live our lives, same as anyone else.
Ultimately, whether Muhlaysia’s violent death was because of hate or because of something else doesn’t matter to her; she’s gone. I know she will be missed. It will hurt again this November when her name is read at Transgender Day of Remembrance.
I think about how scared she must have been. She died at the hands of someone who didn’t value her life at all. Did she die alone? Not surrounded by friends and family, but in the street?
She deserved better. We all do.
If you want to reach out to members of the House Committee on Criminal Jurisprudence, I’ve listed the members here. It’s too late this session, but maybe the seventh time is the charm. They can call it the Muhlaysia Booker Hate Crime Amendment.
The chair of the committee on criminal jurisprudence is Nicole Collier; vice chair is Bill Zedler; committee members are Keith Bell, Jessica Gonzalez, Todd Hunter, Phil King, Joe Moody, Andrew Murr and Leo Pacheco.
And when you call or write, maybe ask Mr. Zedler what was so urgent he couldn’t stick around to even listen.
This has to stop.