Remember Ruby Molina
Local transgender community worries hate crimes may increase as the battle for gay marriage heats up
On September 21, 2008, a naked corpse was found floating facedown in the American River just southeast of the Highway 160 bridge. A purple bruise bloomed below the waterlogged corpse’s right eyelid; blood vessels in the eye were ruptured. The maroon nail polish on the victim’s toenails was chipped.
Her name was Ruby Molina, a transgendered individual known to frequent Midtown. She was just 22.
Last week, the Sacramento County Coroner officially declared drowning as the cause of Molina’s death. At a gender safety seminar on June 6, Sacramento Police Deptartment Capt. Dana Matthes said authorities are still open to any new leads. “Until then, the case is being considered closed,” she said.
However, Sacramento’s transgender community isn’t convinced. They’re concerned that Molina’s violent end could be a harbinger of more violence to come from those opposed to highly publicized gender issues such as gay marriage. After all, Molina’s death occurred just as the Proposition 8 controversy had begun to roil in Sacramento.
According to Matthes, there has been no significant surge in sexuality-related hate crimes in the last four years. From 2006 to present, the number of annual reported incidents in the city of Sacramento has actually decreased from 11 to five.
But UC Davis psychology professor Dr. Gregory Herek theorizes that the increased media focus on gay rights may be leading to more hate crimes against persons who are perceived to be nonheterosexual. Herek, who is on summer hiatus and could not be reached, explores the sociological roots of homophobia and gender-related prejudices on his blog, Beyond Homophobia.
“Sexual stigma,” he wrote in response to the February 2008 murder of Lawrence King, a 15-year-old gay boy from Oxnard, Calif., “creates a cultural climate in which children, adolescents, and adults are routinely subjected to harassment and bullying if they violate conventions of gender and sexuality.”
Since it is arguably impossible to determine someone’s sexuality from across the street, hostile members of the public frequently (and incorrectly) equate “heterosexual” with “traditionally gendered.”
“Antigay hate crimes are attacks against an entire community and, as such, are a kind of terrorism,” Herek continued. “They convey the message that anyone can be targeted for violence if they’re perceived to be gay, lesbian, or bisexual.”
That violence can be physical or verbal. Just last month, the hosts of KRXQ 98 Rock’s morning show, Rob, Arnie and Dawn in the Morning, remarked the appropriate response to having alternately gendered children, as deejay Arnie States proposed, is to “hit [them] with one of my shoes.”
Though Williams’ initial response to the subsequent outcry was to protest that any claims of physical child abuse were “obviously” made in jest, Dr. Carol Milazzo of Roseville, who specializes in adolescent gender dysphoria, said that the most dangerous part of the broadcast was deejay Rob Williams’ claim that alternately gendered individuals are “freaks.”
“Oppressive language is a form of violence,” Milazzo said. “And it is harder to define as such because of its [nonphysical] nature.”
In response, the transgender community has taken action, as evidenced by the gender safety seminar earlier this month, hosted by the Sacramento Transgender Coalition. Lt. Stephan Thorne, a transgendered officer from the San Francisco Police Department, advised Sacramento police officers at the seminar to follow his lead in educating every cadet who graduates from the academy about gender issues. He stressed the importance of focusing on proactive responses to violence.
“We must unlearn how to stop seeing what goes on around us,” Thorne said. “Personal safety is community safety. We all must reach out and help each other.”
Matthes and Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department Lt. Rosanne Richeal implored victims of hate crimes to provide all relevant information about their attacks to the authorities, so that crime statistics will be more accurate and law enforcement can take steps to prevent such violence from reoccurring.
According to Tara Golden, who personally funded the seminar, a necessary part of this prevention will be a commitment to change at a personal level.
“Words do matter,” she said, referring to the 98 Rock broadcast. “They precede violence. We must watch out for each other, stay safe and stand up and protect ourselves.”
Editor’s note: The 98 Rock deejay hosts have since atoned for their remarks. See Editorial.