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Conviction in shooting death of transgender woman

The manslaughter and hate crime verdict and Congress' recent moves to expand hate crime law bolster activists' hopes that the country will become more understanding of transgender people.

July 18, 2009|Kate Linthicum

A New York man who shot and killed a transgender woman last year was convicted Friday of first-degree manslaughter and a hate crime -- a conviction hailed by advocates seeking greater protections for transgender people.

Dwight DeLee, 20, of Syracuse, faces 10 to 25 years in prison for killing Lateisha "Teish" Green, 22, outside a house party in November.

Transgender activists said DeLee is just the second person in the Unites States to be found guilty of a hate crime that involved the death of a transgender victim.

In April, a man was convicted of first-degree murder and a hate crime in the death of a transgender teen in Colorado. And on Thursday, the Senate approved legislation to extend federal hate crimes protections to those attacked because of their sexuality, gender, disability or gender identity. The House passed a similar bill in April.

These moves, along with President Obama's declaration that June was Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, suggest that the government is embracing a more comprehensive understanding of gender identity, activists say. And that, they hope, will help the rest of the country become more accepting of differences.

"The great thing is these [developments] are not just about hate crimes," said Mara Keisling, the director of the National Center for Transgender Equality. "They're about transgender people, and about gender in general. This is about educating the public."

For transgender people, their sense of gender identity does not match their birth-assigned sex.

Lateisha Green was such a person.

Green was born and raised in Syracuse as Moses Cannon, a boy. At age 16, Green came out as transgender and began living as a girl, Lateisha. She faced bullies and threats at school but had a supportive family, said Michael Silverman, director of the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, which has worked closely with Green's family.

Last year, on an unusually warm November night, Green and her brother, Mark Cannon, drove to a small house party. When they arrived, several guests started yelling slurs about Green's sexuality, witnesses later testified. Green was sitting with her brother in their car outside the house when DeLee walked up, raised a .22-caliber rifle, and fired a single shot.

After her death, Green's family pushed prosecutors to bring hate crime charges.

New York, like more than half of the nation's states, has hate-crime statutes that include protections based on sexual orientation, but not gender identity.

But because Green had been threatened with slurs related to her sexuality, prosecutors decided the case could be tried as a hate crime.

Only 11 states, along with the District of Columbia, have laws that include gender identity as a protected class.

If the hate crime bill making its way through the Senate becomes law, it will be a significant extension of federal hate crimes statutes that Congress enacted in 1968 after the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

That 1968 law defines hate crimes as those carried out on the basis of race, color, religion or national origin. It does not include sexual orientation or gender identity and expression as hate crime categories.

The Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act, named for the gay Wyoming man brutally murdered in 1998, provides protection for both of those categories. It has been proposed as an amendment to a $690-billion bill to approve defense programs.

Activists for transsexual rights have praised the law because it distinguishes between sexual orientation and gender identity.

"Those things aren't the same," Silverman said.

He said DeLee's hate crime conviction "is a clear victory" for Green's family and for the transgender community.

"Hate crimes don't just target an individual; they target communities," Silverman said. "And the jury recognized that this was not just an act of violence, but was an act of violence because of who she was."

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kate.linthicum@latimes.com

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