Sunday, June 21, 2009

Shuffling A Pack Of Lies

On Friday I received notification that a hate crime had taken place in a small town in New York State. Rachel Roo, an 18 year old teen mentor on a popular transgender forum had been brutally murdered.

It was reported that Rachel who had transitioned quite young, had been involved in a car accident in which her mother had lost an arm. Upon testifying in court, the lawyer for the opposing party outed her - apparently her townsfolk did not take kindly to this revelation and she and her family now faced numerous death threats on a daily basis. It was reported that while riding to a nearby store on Friday evening, she disappeared. Her bicycle was found in a dumpster and some hours later she had been found lying at the side of the road. She was reported to have been gang-raped, and so badly assaulted that even her knee caps had been shattered by what was assumed to have been a sledgehammer. Apparently she was supposed to have been left for dead in a shallow grave, but supposedly managed to crawl out and towards the roadway, and collapsed where she was later found. She was taken to ICU where she died in the early hours of the next morning.

Like many others around the world, I was incensed on reading this, not to mention upset. Quite honestly I was shattered. I felt that I had lost somebody I had known and it actually brought tears to my eyes. After all, hate crimes like this are the reason I became an activist for gay and trans rights.

Imagine my shock and disappointment upon finding out that it was all a lie.

Not that I was sorry Rachel hadn't died in such a horrible way, but that I had been scammed and that I had helped the sycophant who started this travesty to spread news of it around the world. I had relayed the urls of the reports to friends and activism contacts in the UK and US - and even in New Zealand and Australia.

Somebody had a pretty good laugh at our expense.

It seems the people who actually knew the "victim" were also scammed and are very upset about this matter indeed. The source of this false alarm was a blog post by an esteemed and award winning blogger who is a prominent member of a US transgender support forum. It seems she was as misled as the rest of us were.

The reported victim was a youth mentor on the same forum who had a great reputation and had helped many troubled trans teens through difficult patches with her advice and tutelage.

It was claimed by a "family member" of a teen post op trans in New York that she had been murdered in a savage and brutal hate crime. This has subsequently been proved false - meanwhile this horrific untruth has spread around the world in less than 24 hours. I assume it is in our nature to believe the worst news, and especially in a group such as ours which is used to hearing such things about our community being targeted in hate crimes. We are also, I assume, outraged easily because this "victim" was a young person who represents what all of us view as the ideal of transition and the core of what being transgender means.

What makes it easy to believe is that it has happened so often in the past - there are numerous examples, including most recently in the US, Angie Zapata and here in SA there have been recent examples such as the Zulu trans woman who was murdered for asking a man to not call her "a queer".

Reports of this fictitious hate-crime have reached around the world as people from nearly every country posted on that forum to show solidarity and empathy. Understandably, that forum and its Admins are now very embarrassed.

I however see no reason for the ordinary people out there who showed sympathy and outrage to be embarrassed.

We are people, and we were led to believe that one of our own had been for all intents and purposes, butchered - and we reacted like people. If anything, it showed the world (and especially the bigots) that we are people, just like they are. That we have hearts just as they do. And that we have teeth and claws too.

I assume the only people laughing at our expense are the individuals behind this outrageous deception.

Whoever would do something like this has to be sick enough to realize how much damage they can do to the trans community by having them in effect "cry wolf". In the past, detractors of the pink community have often used such hoaxes to support their claim that ALL our references to hate crime are in fact "hoaxes".

Regardless of all the negatives, it was heart-warming to watch how the trans community around the globe rallied to show their horror, sorrow and support for somebody they never knew personally. It is also something of a relief that this never really happened and that this person did not suffer so horribly for the "crime" of being transgender.

Among the few positives, we can consider this: Some gay and trans rights activists who had retired from active service in the community, or who had become jaded or complacent, were spurred back into action again by this tragic scenario. The lies of the enemy have made us stronger and wiser.

Even if false, this brutal shock has helped to make the voice against transphobia, homophobia - and hate crime - that much stronger.


If you would like to know more about Christina Engela and her writing, please feel free to browse her website.

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  1. I have nothing to add beyond my admiration for your thoughts. We are indeed spurred by this event and it has served to refocus our energies back to moving forward.