Whenever our community achieves a first of some kind, it’s typically cause for celebration. But when transgender woman Krissy Bates recently was found brutally murdered in her Downtown Minneapolis apartment, becoming the city’s first homicide victim of 2011, all we as a community could do was mourn.
What we know from news accounts of her story is that Bates, 45, was new to Minneapolis. She lived a relatively quiet life on the edge of Downtown in an old brownstone on Linden Avenue. Her neighbors said she was a warm and caring person. One neighbor even seemed to keep an eye out for her.
On January 12, the building caretaker was asked to check on Bates. Entering her apartment, he found her dead from what the Hennepin County Medical Examiner said was the result of “complex homicidal violence,” likely indicating more than one cause of death.
The Minneapolis Police Department announced on January 19 that it had arrested Bates’s boyfriend, 40-year-old Arnold Darwin Waukazo, in connection with the murder.
We aren’t certain of the motives surrounding Bates’s murder, but we do know that transgender people are at greater risk for violence and ultimately murder.
In 2010, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs released its Report of Hate Violence Against LGBTQ Communities for 2009. It found that in 2009, murders against our community were at their second-highest rate in a decade. Nationally, at least 22 people were the victims of hate murder. Most were transgender women.
And those are only the reported cases. Fear of reporting, along with misreporting, mean the actual numbers likely are even greater.
Antitransgender violence, even if it doesn’t result in death, is on the rise, both nationally and in Minnesota.
According to OutFront Minnesota Anti-Violence Program Director Rebecca Waggoner, 2009 saw “a 38 percent increase in cases specifically targeting transgender communities here in Minnesota.”
That figure jumps to 64 percent when bias crimes across the entire LGBTQ community in Minnesota are included.
International Transgender Day of Remembrance, held each year on November 20, raises awareness and honors the lives of transgender people murdered because of antitransgender hatred. A list of transgender murder victims going all the way back to 1970 is maintained.
This endless chronicle of hapless victims and the gruesome descriptions of their horrific deaths is stunning in its scope. In 1976, Nikki was thrown off a New York City roof to her death. In 1984, Chiron Collins was stabbed 42 times. In 1987, Michelle Byrne was tortured, beaten to death, and beheaded.
One striking thing about this tragically-exhaustive list is how few of the grisly murders have been solved, with a killer ultimately brought to justice.
Beyond honoring Bates’s life, it behooves us as a community to raising awareness of transgender violence. Like so many in our community, transgender persons often have few if anyone to advocate on their behalf or in their memory.
Vigils and days of remembrance are important to help us heal and strengthen our community, but they do not deter perpetrators from committing these crimes in the first place.
Let’s honor Bates’s memory with action and resources to ensure that our transgender brothers and sisters are safe and healthy, able to live proud, productive lives.