Bil Browning

The Media, the Legislature and the Police Are Guilty Too

Filed By Bil Browning | December 30, 2008 5:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, Politics, The Movement, Transgender & Intersex
Tags: anti-gay violence, Indiana, Indianapolis, Indianapolis police, Layia Lovely, LGBT issues, police liaison, transgender issues

My post, "Transgender woman and her boyfriend murdered in Indianapolis," has created quite a bit of conversation - both here on the 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.

LayiaLovely.jpgAfter 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 boogeymen 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.

  1. 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.


  2. 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.

  3. 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 at the Huffington Post. Since there will be a completely different audience over there, feel free to join both conversations.)


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Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 30, 2008 5:33 PM

Rights are mostly a romantic notion. Governments do what they are demanded to do. For a bit of the history of these things and practical suggestions on how to use what you do have and how to get more of what you need, please see my comment to Bil on his previous post (link above).

Well, it's good to know more about Taysia. This is a tragic story.

Your anonymous poster and resident research assistant here again. I'd like to point out that WTHR also used the "two men" angle, even while clearly showing photographs of Taysia en femme.

As with all too many things around here, asking for Indiana to do anything is likely to be futile. The best hope in the short term is in making Indianapolis as LGBT friendly as possible. While Indy can't be mistaken for a gay mecca, I think there has been a lot of progress. As in most areas of the civic development, it's not enough, but it is happening. Trying to get the state at large to adopt LGBT friendly policies is only an exercise in frustration. I'm much more optimistic about the central city.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 31, 2008 3:48 AM

Hate crimes laws don't single us out for "permanent other" status, they merely acknowledge that a people's disproportionate experience of hate-motivated violence designed not only to harm the attacked individual at the level of the base crime but also to intimidate an entire class of people from the free exercise of their most basic rights is more serious than the base crime itself and is thus logically deserving of a higher degree of punishment. The fact that bias crimes short of murder are psychologically more devastating and take longer to emotionally recover from than non-bias matched pair base crimes proves this out.

Bil,
Georgia is one of those five states. They figured that since the federal government says you can't openly hate African-Americans, they won't pass a law keeping them from hating LGBT people, because they have to have someone to hate. Marla's experiences proves that.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | December 31, 2008 3:59 AM

Not to mention the state's smarmy marriage ban amendment. There's Atlanta and, to a lesser extent, Savannah and Athens and then there's the rest of the state. I went to see Carrot Top with my niece last night and, in the middle of a schtick on golf, he did a quick take on Augusta's redneck nature that is so in contrast with the image the Masters' tries to portray. He nailed it and had me laughing so hard tears rolled down my cheeks. Even African-American Georgia outside of metro Atlanta can be pretty hopeless at times. My mother's Liberty County, for instance, having spawned Clarence Thomas and nurtured him through his formative years. And, dear heavens, don't even get me started on Burke County, Ludowici, or Pooler.

Marla, I think you nailed it on Georgia. You've got a backwards state with repressive laws yet Atlanta is known as a very LGBT friendly town. I think that's best realistic outcome we can hope for in the near term. Indy, Bloomington, etc. become very gay friendly in a state that isn't.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 30, 2008 9:49 PM

Wow, Bil, I didn't realize that Indiana was so bad when it came to LGBT awareness and rights.

I think your three demands are reasonable. Number one seems doable without legislative involvement.

Haven't you been looking for employment? You'd be perfect in such a position.

Brynn, the Human Rights Ordinance in Indianapolis already provides #3 locally at least. Thank goodness for that.

On principle, I do not support hate crimes legislation. What I want is for the police to treat anti-LGBT crimes the same as for crimes against others. In this case at least, I'm confident they will do so. I realize this is a passionate topic for many but in my view hate crimes laws only single out LGBT people as a permanent "Other". By saying that the LGBT community requires particular protection, that is only a mark that it is treated like some sort of dependent minor or other diminutive group.

As for suggestion #1, it seems eminently practical. I wouldn't pick Bil though. No offense, but when you are on the inside, you've got to be a team player and can't stray too far off the reservation. He's doing better work, and I suspect it better fits his personality, on the outside, where he can say what he thinks without having to worry about how it reflect on his employer or get into political considerations.

Anon, You're confident they will treat this case like others? Excuse me, but I have to ask why. Is it because the respect and dignity that they have already afforded the victims? Or ... possibly is it because of the swiftness and dedication with which so many murders of transpeople are solved? Oh, How about the indisputable fact that violence against PoC is treated so seriously in most police departments? I'm sure they also respect her employment and won't shift any of the blame onto her for that.

BAH.

Bil, there is just no evidence that hate crime legislation reduces the number of attacks. At best these laws are an empty gesture, at their worst they prop up the racist and queer/transphobic prison industrial complex.

I agree with you 100& up to the words "empty gesture."

I'm not so sure about propping up the prison industrial complex. I think the only set of laws that can be properly credited with that are drug laws.

Nick -

are you aware of any well funded studies on this issue? I did a quick search and nothing came up. I don't think the issue has been studied enough to determine whether or not these laws are effective in preventing attacks. There is also no evidence, of which I'm aware, that hate crimes laws do anything to prop up abusive criminal justice practices.

In CA at least, inclusion of gender identity in the state's hate crimes statute opened a floodgate of other protective legislation. Within a little more than five years of gender identity being added to the state's hate crimes statute (the first time gender identity had been included in any CA law), we became the nation's most protective state. It is possible that the same pattern will be repeated on the federal level.

Marla R. Stevens Marla R. Stevens | January 4, 2009 1:25 PM

The issue in using bias crime law for prevention as opposed to simple punishment justice is twofold:

1) Bias criminals and their crimes tend to be progressive -- a certain percentage of the teen hate vandals, if not drawn up short and sent a clear message that the bias nature of the crime is unacceptable and serious as opposed to a boys-will-be-boys prank, go on to more and more serious bias crimes. Nip a budding hate criminal early and you may well prevent serious crime later.

But this effect, being an absence of crime when bias crimes laws are properly used for misdemeanors of this sort, is harder to track than the presence of crime. It takes longitudinal studies beyond the scope of most bias crimes reporting laws.

2) Bias crimes data typical of reporting requirements can be used by savvy police agencies to track crime, establishing patterns of crime that can then be used in crime prevention efforts -- but, even if there's an administrative level awareness of this value enough to get that moving, it takes work hours and other fiscal resources that are too often beyond the budgetary capacity of police agencies in these hard times. As with securing reporting compliance, it's a matter of how much our community wants it to happen -- a matter of whether or not we will invest sufficient effort and capital ourselves to give it the best shot of getting done.

The thing I get pissed about is once again, the sistah not only got disrespected, they dug deep to find the most unflattering photo (a mugshot).

Cory Wilson | January 1, 2009 9:55 AM

I hear ya! The mugshot was totally inappropriate. Talk about total disprespect and all it does is reinforce the pervasive sterotypes about "alternative lifestyles."

One can hope Bil, but I'm going on 55 and I don't see it happening soon. If.... if we can vote out a few of our legistators who are among the worst (thinking of my homophic senator for one) in the next cycle, then maybe Indiana will take a turn similar to what it did when the state went for Obama.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | December 31, 2008 5:05 AM

Bil, as I grew up in Michigan City it was a natural for me to seek to live in Illinois both for better law and to have wider job opportunities.

Indiana is important though. She has generated radicals from Eugene V. Debbs to "Squeaky" Fromme and beyond because the intelligent are surrounded by the reactionary.

A few old phrases:

Read the "Indianapolis Star" and go to sleep with nothing on your mind.

Indiana never wants to admit she is anything but ultra wholesome.

"You are now entering Indiana, turn your calendar back thirty years."

Happy 1979 Indiana!

Even in the absence of a hate crime state law, pressure can be put on local prosecutors and judges to deal more harshly with offenders in crimes such as the Hunt-Elzy murder. Prosecutors have wide discretion; when they work out plea deals, their only constraint is the judge in each particular case. Carl Brizzi is the Marion County Prosecutor; his contact info is:

Marion County Prosecutor's Office
251 E. Ohio St.
Indianapolis, IN 46204
(317) 327-3522

We should all write or call him and make clear that we want the perpetrator(s) in this case, once caught, to be nailed to the wall; and tell him why. I'm doing it; and I suggest that everyone else who cares about this do the same. If enough people make their wishes clear here, he might listen. And when/if the perp(s) are caught, also contact the judge assigned to the case; even if the prosector doesn't listen, the judge still might. Judges make the final decision on an offender's sentence.

Brizzi, a Republican but very gay-friendly, has been to the Statehouse several times advocating for a state-wide inclusive hate crimes law.

Your bigger fear in this case should be that a jury would aquit the killers for their own personal reasons.

As a member of the Indianapolis Star family I have to admit that it's a clumsy handling of an unfortunate situation. Without knowing the exact details of the reporting (who knew what when), the paper follows AP and local guidelines when referring to victims and those guidelines are probably not nuanced enough to distinguish between gay man/pre-op transgender/post-op transgender, etc. As younger reporters who are more familiar/comfortable with the LGBT community come up through the ranks, reporting will improve.

As far as leaving Indy to go somewhere that is more welcoming and supportive - don't. If you do, Indy will never become more welcoming and supportive. Keep up the good work.

Taffy

Taffy,

Thanks for stopping by to leave that info. I have to point out that I spoke with Francesco Jarosz for my interview yesterday. Part of the interview was about the media handling of the case. To ensure she was correct in her usage, I was able to connect her with GLAAD - a media watchdog group on LGBT issues. GLAAD has a person that deals specifically with trans issues and the two have been put in touch - at Francesca's request.

While I didn't include that in the post itself (I was saving it for after her article came out), it really made me feel better to know that someone out there was listening and working on the language issue.

Taffy,

Actually, the AP guidelines for referring to trans people are very clear. Conveniently, the most respectful approach is also the most simple and direct:

Unless a former name is newsworthy or pertinent, use the name and pronouns (he, his, she, her, hers) preferred by the transgender person. If no preference is known, use the pronouns consistent with the way the subject lives publicly.

The difference in referring to a gay man and a transgender woman is simply the difference between a man and a woman. It's not appropriate for the media to become the judge of when a person is a man or a woman, but to listen to the individual themselves -- or in unfortunate cases like this, listen to the friends and/or family that knew the victim best.

Operation status does not matter and is a matter of personal medical history that in most cases is inappropriate to bring up.

Brynn Craffey Brynn Craffey | December 31, 2008 4:09 PM

Thanks, Tobi, you beat me to it!

Well done.

When I read opinions of the relevancy of "Hate Crime Laws" I get the impression that some feel that the issue of classifing is irrelevant. Crimes are classified by Degree, Murder 1, Murder 2 , etc. and "intent" is the main basis of the classifications. Crimes against the vulnerable, Children, the Elderly etc ( Child Abuse, Elder Abuse), often send waves of fear through these communities which affect the Quality of Security. Living with a Target on Your Back has a price and often affects the perceptions of Groups whose victimizations are minimized or ignored. In my Opinion, the additional Charge of Hate does send a message to the whole Community that we as a Civilization do have limits to what behavior we will tolerate or what victimizations we as a Collective will give a wink and a nod to.

So having been caught in the crosshairs of Hate, I would to some degree, feel some sense of compassion from a community that would draw a line as to what we tolerate as to who we are as a Collective. These Hate Crimes Laws will not stop Hate but they will raise the bar as to what, as a Collective, we will tolerate or cultivate.

Perception often preceeds Reality.

I'm not afraid of an acquittal at all; because the case will probably not go to trial. Over 90% of all cases are settled by plea bargain. All a prosector has to do is threaten to max an offender out, and that's usually enough to force a plea agreement. When someone's looking at 120 years for double murder (60 on each count), with another possible decade for aggravating circumstances, they'll think twice about turning down a plea bargain. They might get 50 or 60 years in an agreement, but that will at least allow them the hope of being free again; if you get 120 years, there's no way you're getting out. (In Indiana, offenders typically have to serve half their stated sentences; so a 60-year term will still allow the possibility of freedom after 30 years, while a 120-year term, or 60 actual years, would be basically a life sentence.)