A string of recent attacks involving gay and transgender victims in Washington has caused jitters among advocates, who fear that hate crimes are on the rise, but it has also revealed the challenge of identifying such incidents — and uncovered tension over whether victims’ sexuality should be identified at all.
The attacks include a homicide, a sexual assault, a shooting and a stabbing, and District police say they are investigating only one as a possible hate crime. At the urging of advocates, however, D.C. police have identified three of six recent victims as transgender.
Some advocates agree that several of the incidents, two of which occurred Saturday, were most likely not motivated by sexual orientation. But they say all should be highlighted because a vulnerable group is involved and the public should know what’s happening.
Others disagree. Diane Davis of Temple Hills, the aunt of recent homicide victim Malika Stover, was angry when advocates distributed a funeral notice that read: “Shooting claims life of LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] victim.” Stover, 35, who was a lesbian, was not killed because she was gay, Davis said.
“She was a person, not a label,” said Davis, who thinks her niece was slain in a June 22 robbery of a dice game near her childhood home in Southeast Washington’s Barry Farm. “That funeral statement contradicts what I think happened.”
Hassan Naveed, co-chairman of the group Gays and Lesbians Opposing Violence, said generating publicity about such crimes is important. “People see transgendered as a target,” he said. “People will attack certain people because they perceive them as being weak. We want people to realize that it is happening.”
D.C. police, accused in the past of being insensitive or indifferent to the gay and transgender community, now pay close attention. A gay and lesbian liaison unit investigates all cases with even a hint of suspected bias. The task force is examining all six recent attacks. And there are legal ramifications to the attention: A hate crime conviction in the District can lead to punishments up to 11 / 2 times the maximum penalty.
Assistant D.C. Police Chief Peter Newsham said five of the six attacks since June 21 are not considered hate crimes. Four of the cases involved transgender victims, and police in three of them listed their sexual orientation in news releases.
“Advocates in that community seem to think offenses are not taken as seriously as others, and they ask that we” list the sexual orientation, Newsham said. “They say they want that information out there, and we accommodate them.” Police did not list the homicide victim, Stover, as gay.
Ruby Corado, who runs a volunteer center for transgender women, said all crimes against that community should be considered hate crimes.
She spoke of a transgender woman who was stabbed at least 11 times June 21 in an abandoned building in Southeast. Police said the incident occurred during an argument over money for sex. But advocates who have spoken to the victim said the attacker stabbed the woman after friends laughed at him for being with a transgender person. Police have made an arrest in that case.
“The woman told me, ‘I know what hate is, I looked at evil in his eyes,’ ” Corado said. “If you want to kill somebody, you shoot them once. You don’t stab them so many times.” She said transgender women are “not leaving their houses because they are afraid of being the next victim. That’s what hate does.”
District police say the number of hate and bias crimes has dropped 18 percent this year compared with last year, with the latest numbers available through the end of May.
Newsham said the only recent attack being investigated as a possible hate crime occurred June 27 at Eastern Avenue NE. Police said a transgender woman was shot about 6 a.m. during a robbery of a purse. The police report said one of the gunmen pulled or knocked off the woman’s wig, then shot her once in the buttocks as she ran away.
In that case, Newsham described hate as a “borderline motive” and said detectives are continuing to investigate.
Other attacks, including the two latest ones Saturday, are not considered hate crimes, Newsham said. A transgender woman was shot and injured during a robbery about 4 a.m. near Fifth and K streets Northeast, and another transgender woman was sexually assaulted after she accepted a ride from a man in the 300 block of 61st Street NE.
“The District has a significant number of gay, lesbian and transgendered” residents, Newsham said. “If you compare the number of crimes that have occurred involving that community to others it would be a very small percentage. . . . There’s certainly no pattern here.”
Davis, the aunt of slaying victim Malika Stover, said Stover came out as gay in her late teens and was well known in the city’s lesbian community. Davis said that Stover’s mother died when she was a teenager and that she never knew her father.
Stover dropped out of school before the ninth grade but later got her high school diploma and was working as a driver for MetroAccess, which provides public transportation for the disabled. A Metro spokeswoman confirmed she was an employee.
Davis said her niece had a longtime partner with two grown children. She lived on Alabama Avenue in Southeast Washington, in a house once owned by her grandmother. Before working for Metro, she drove rental cars to different offices up and down the East Coast.
Stover wasn’t shy about her sexual identity, Davis said. On the night she was killed, she was in her old neighborhood, on Stevens Road, playing dice and gambling.
“She grew up in the neighborhood where that went on all the time,” Davis said, saying she does not think the motive in her niece’s killing to be anything other than robbery. “She was good at it.”
Stover will be buried Wednesday after a service at Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suitland. She would have turned 36 on Friday.