11 April 2009

Light a Candle for Angie Zapata

Angie Zapata, an 18-year old Colorado woman, was murdered last July. The man accused of her murder, Allen Andrade, claims that he became "enraged" when he discovered that Angie was transgendered, and subsequently beat her to death. In other words, Angie was murdered for being trans.

Andrade goes to trial this Tuesday, April 14th and is being charged with a hate crime under Colorado state law, which added sexual orientation and transgender status as protected categories under its hate-crime legislation in 2005. This is the first time that the murder of a trans* person is being tried as a hate crime under this legislation, and discrimination based on gender identity has yet to be addressed by US federal law.

Angie's family, in conjunction with 50 civil-rights groups, has started an awareness raising campaign both in local papers and online to raise awareness of the effects of transphobia and promote acceptance of trans* individuals, and to increase pressure on US policy-makers to expand hate-crimes legislation to include gender-identity based violence and discrimination. One aspect of the project is an online candlelight vigil through Facebook, which is something that everyone can (and should) participate in. I've lit my candle.

The below video, found via Feministe and produced as part of the larger education campaign, shows her family talking about what Angie meant to them and calling for an end to discrimination. It's powerful, and a beautiful testament to the love and support she had in her life:

Please light a candle, re-post the video and links, talk about trans* issues with your peers, and help to raise awareness and put pressure on the government to help protect an incredibly vulnerable group of people.


This campaign made me curious about the degree of protection that trans* people receive under law up here in Canada, and I discovered it's muddier and less comprehensive than it should be. From what I've read, there is no explicit protection for anyone under "gender expression" in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms (which is our federal human rights legislation). However, provincial Human Rights Commissions in British Columbia, Alberta and Saskatchewan have ruled that gender expression is included under the definition of "sex", which is a protected category. Both Ontario and the Northwest Territories explicitly define "gender expression" as covered, while the situation is unclear in Manitoba, which lists "gender based characteristics" under the "sex" portion of its human rights code.

The Canadian Human Rights Commission (CHRC) doesn't list gender identity in its definitition of "sex", nor does the Criminal Code include trans* individuals under its definition of an "identifiable group" that is in danger of being targeted with a hate crime. Though the CHRC has acknowledged that
There is a significant body of human rights jurisprudence that has found that discrimination on the basis of transsexualism constitutes sex discrimination.
and has indicated (see note under "1996") that it will hear complaints from trans* people of discrimination on the basis of sex, the fact that this is not explicitly laid out in the federal Human Rights act and the lack of hate-crime provision in the Criminal Code leaves trans* people in a weird sort of semi-protected limbo.

There is still much work to be done at home as well as across the border to ensure that all of us are granted the equality and protection we need under law.

Light a candle.

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