Trans Panic Defense Underway in Trial for Angie Zapata’s Murder

I have been very closely following the Twitter feed by JusticeforAngie, which is live-tweeting the trial of Allen Andrade for the murder of Angie Zapata. The details of the case have been absolutely engrossing; they have also made me feel quite physically and emotionally ill, particularly on the day that opening arguments began, and the defense’s strategy became clear.

Close to the time that Angie Zapata was murdered last July, I wrote a post about the clear signs that the defense was going to use the wildly bigoted “trans panic” defense — in which someone is supposedly and“understandably” so enraged upon learning that another person is trans that they murder that person — to excuse Andrade’s actions. That educated and easy to make guess has indeed come to fruition.

One strategy the defense is using is to repeatedly misgender Angie by referring to her by masculine pronouns and a male “legal name” which she herself did not use:

The first few times, it almost seemed like the public defenders were misspeaking.

But then, those watching the murder trial of Allen Andrade started muttering under their breaths. Witnesses on the stand continued to correct the attorneys questioning them.

Family members and friends echoed repeatedly, “my sister,” “Angie,” one by one on the stand Friday as public defenders Annette Kundelius and Brad Martin questioned them about “_____.” [Male name omitted by me.]

This misgendering has been persistent and unrelenting. The goal is to prove “deception,” and I’m not just inferring that from the strategy the defense has shown — rather, they have admitted it. They admit that Andrade murdered Angie — they are, however, claiming that he had a good reason to do so and could not control his actions once he learned that he had been “deceived” by Angie and her gender presentation.

This is despite the fact that, according to Justice for Angie’s tweets, family members and friends have repeatedly stated under oath that Angie regularly identified herself as trans, particularly to men. And it is also despite the even more important fact that even if Angie did not regularly openly discuss the fact that she was trans, portraying herself as the woman that she was was in absolutely no way “deceptive.” To suggest otherwise is, quite simply, the height of transphobia, and one of the most common tropes in existence.

But the goal is to confuse the jury. With the defense using masculine pronouns and an incorrect name to refer to Angie, and the prosecution referring to her with her correct name and feminine pronouns, the jury member’s heads will be going back and forth. And the majority of whom are likely not even schooled in trans 101 are going to feel confused, because it plays into societal prejudices that we’re taught from an exceedingly early age.

Certainly, those who do know better, or at least have some basic compassion for fellow human beings, may feel as angry at this misgendering as I and many others do. This is particularly the case when Angie’s friends and family have been persistent in correcting the defense’s misgendering attempts during cross examination, and have displayed emotional distress at having to do so. Surely, the strategy could backfire. It could. And I hope it will. But I’m sure as hell not going to hold my breath.

The good news is that the prosecution has dropped an important bombshell — they’re making the claim that Andrade knew of Angie’s trans status for 36 hours prior to the murder. If they can convince the jury of this, they have negated the defense’s argument that Andrade acted in a wild, spontaneous, uncontrollable rage on wholly factual terms (rather than attempting to sway the ingrained opinion that such a reaction would be valid and excusable), and instead established the murder as premeditated.

It’s also worth emphasizing that Andrade is not being tried only on murder charges — he’s also being tried on hate crimes charges, the allegation being that he killed Angie because she was trans. Taking this into account, the defense is actually doing a bulk of the prosecution’s work for them. In order to claim that Andrade killed Angie Zapata because he was enraged upon finding out she was trans, they also have little choice but to claim that he killed her because she was trans.

But I also don’t trust a jury to necessarily interpret the argument that way. Remember, we’re dealing with the extreme prejudice that being violently angry upon learning that a potential or actual sexual partner is transgender is somehow a normal reaction. And though I think they probably ought to be, I’m not sure that the prosecution is actually pointing out the above flaw in the defense’s logic, either.

And so for now, we have to stay tuned, and hope that somehow, someway, justice will overcome prejudice. And do so with the distressing knowledge that it rarely has in the past.

Selected Further Reading:

Bird of Paradox: Has the Trans Panic Defense Been Undermined?
Transgriot: Andrade Trial Opening Impressions
Pam’s House Blend: What Does “Justice for Angie” Mean? (Trigger Warning)
Pam’s House Blend: Are People Like Angie and Me Deceptive?
Questioning Transphobia: What’s in a name?
Justice for Angie: Twitter Feed

(If there is something excellent and/or important that I have missed, please leave a link in the comments, and I will update.)

cross-posted at The Curvature

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53 comments for “Trans Panic Defense Underway in Trial for Angie Zapata’s Murder

  1. April 20, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    i can’t believe i have to point this out, but this is no excuse for taking the life of another human being. this was not a self defense thing. saying that the victim deceived him and that’s why he killed her should be an automatic sentencing since it’s admission of guilt–i don’t care how the murderer felt at the time of murdering. i don’t care about the gender identity of the victim–none of this justifies the fact that a life was stolen.

  2. April 20, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I’m entirely unsurprised by this. From the moment Andrade’s version of the story emerged, I knew it was going to be the deception narrative again. It’s a long shot, but we can hope that if this defense is knocked down, it may put another nail in the coffin of the “deception narrative.” That narrative, the whole idea that there are “deceptive” or just “foolhardy” trans women running around all over the place putting themselves in danger by not even thinking about how to balance safety and disclosure, is even promoted by some trans folks. But it’s so often just a smokescreen. Look, I’m not even 100% convinced that the knowledge-to-murder time period was as short as 36 hours, based on how these things have been known to play out in the past.

    I am not happy that this is being tried as a hate crime, even though it quite clearly could have been. But even as an opponent of hate crime legislation I can see the value in hopefully dismantling the “trans panic” defense and some of these ideas about deception. Hopefully — although I wouldn’t say I have high hopes — this will get a point across to some cis folks that just don’t get it, a point about how incredibly dangerous and damaging and erasing it is to act like trans people’s genders are illegitimate, or unreal, or deceptions, etc.

  3. April 20, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    I don’t mean to derail, Holly, but as an aside: I’ve noticed you mentioning your opposition to hate crime legislation in a few places lately. Is that a position you’d be willing to elaborate on some time? I think it’s a discussion worth having, though this thread isn’t the place to do it.

    Thanks for the post, Cara. this is beyond disgusting. I haven’t been able to write a thing on this case because it’s so upsetting, so I’m glad plenty of people are pointing out how hideously bankrupt the defense strategy is.

  4. je
    April 20, 2009 at 2:10 pm

    YES!! #2

    And if this guy has enough rage issues that this so called “trans panic” got the better of him, then he should be locked up anyways. Millions of people get angry every day without murdering anyone!

  5. April 20, 2009 at 2:19 pm

    Hey LL,

    Yeah, I am planning on writing up something about that one of these days soon. There is a lot to say and it’s a complicated issue where I don’t think there’s necessarily a “right side” to be on. But long story short, I and a lot of other people believe that hate crimes legislation — at least the “sentencing enhancement” part that most people understand when the term is used — actually tends to endanger and be used as a weapon against the most marginalized communities, for instance trans people of color. At the same time, even groups who lobby for hate crime legislation admit that they push for it mostly as a political symbol of support, not because it offers any real increased safety or deterrence or improvement in anyone’s lives. So for that reason, right now I am opposing the addition of trans people to hate crimes laws in New York State, as are other low-income / POC queer & trans organizations around here like FIERCE, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Queers for Economic Justice, the Audre Lorde Project, etc. It’s controversial and it has created some divisions, which is unfortunate; some activists just want to get trans people “included” in the rolls of protected hate-crimable groups along with everyone else. But hate crimes have NOT been good for POC communities — they have been used disproportionately against POCs in many jurisdictions — and I don’t believe they will be good for trans folks either.

    Cara, let me know if you feel like this is a derail, ok? I feel like the trans panic defense is the main point, but hate crime convictions as the “opposite” of that defense and the more desirable outcome has been brought up a lot surrounding this case too, and I do think that needs to be challenged.

  6. Madeleine
    April 20, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Wow. I realize this isn’t surprising to many people, but it’s so ludicrous. Really disturbing. I don’t really know how the legal system works, but what can someone do to counter the deliberate misgendering?

    And I really don’t understand how anyone could buy the trans panic thing as an acceptable defense, but I guess I’m just really naive.

  7. ander
    April 20, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    I go back and forth between so much anger and so much sadness. This man is capable killing another person purely because he doesn’t like how her existence makes him feel about himself. How can anyone, even if they don’t have experience or awareness about trans stuff, feel okay with someone like that walking freely among us? It scares me that people could be more able or willing to relate to a murderer like Allen Andrade, than to a woman, a sister, daughter and friend who was murdered, just because she was trans. That’s what this defense is based on. The assumption that people on the jury will believe Angie existing is the greater crime. I want to hope that this strategy will fail, but I just don’t feel like I have a lot of hope left at a time like this.

  8. April 20, 2009 at 2:55 pm

    I think it’s horrible to have to hope they can prove that he knew of her trans status, because even if he didn’t, you shouldn’t be able to argue that you were justified at murdering someone because you were so angry about finding out that they’re trans…

  9. panqueque
    April 20, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    This is so. sickening. I wonder if it is possible/likely that the prosecution will actually name what the defense is doing, i.e., tell the jury, “In cases involving transgender people and violence, there’s such a thing as the deception narrative, here’s what it is, and the defense is using it right now.” Probably wishful thinking on my part though.

  10. sk1
    April 20, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    i watched a small portion of the trial on cnn’s live feed last week and i had to stop because i just couldn’t bear to see them continue to use male pronouns and her male name. my law knowledge comes from watching law and order so i don’t really understand the system but couldn’t the prosecuters have done something in advance of the trial to force the defense to use the correct pronouns and names? filed a motion?

    also i agree that being “deceived” (which i highly doubt he even was) is in no way an adequate defense for murder!

  11. April 20, 2009 at 4:09 pm

    That Twitter feed has hypnotized me – in a horrified sort of way. Thank God they’re doing this, people need to know. But goddamn. Goddamn.

  12. April 20, 2009 at 4:12 pm

    I believe they tried to file a motion like that in the Gwen Araujo case, but I can’t recall if it was successful. It certainly might have been a good idea here.

    But yeah, I hope you all realize that most people at the very least find it “understandable” that someone would commit violence against a trans person if they suddenly “found out” that they had been “deceived.” I mean, it’s been tested time and time again, most obviously on the internet where in more “average opinion person on the street” comments sections or discussions, tons of people are like “Well… it’s never right to KILL someone, but I can understand why you would go TOTALLY CRAZY and be pissed off. I would probably beat the crap out of someone who did that to me, but I wouldn’t kill them.” No, seriously. Thousands of people have said pretty much that, and probably far more offline. People who believe that it’s somehow “understandable,” because acting = sexual orientation somehow, and being “tricked” is some kind of non-consensual violence against them, etc. And yeah, gay people have said this kind of thing about trans folks too. It is not uncommon at ALL.

  13. Melissa
    April 20, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    As Cara points out, on its face the defense is using a valid legal strategy- saying that the defendant did kill Angie but it was in a fit of rage, not a premeditated act. But to accomplish that goal they are trying to confuse the jury by misgendering and making constant references to deception (in the hopes that the jury will put itself in the defendant’s bigoted shoes). Unfortunately the side that wins the case isn’t the side with the law behind them but is the side that can do the most to confuse or incite prejudice in the jury. Hopefully the evidence that the killer knew about the trans status over a day before the murder happened will resonate louder with the jury than prejudice.

  14. CBrachyrhynchos
    April 20, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    I hate to say it. But I really don’t think that the bombshell that he knew 36 hours in advance brings this case out of the woods. The McInerney defense, for example is built on the principle that being out of the closet and trans* constitutes a form of harassment that should be considered a mitigating factor.

  15. April 20, 2009 at 4:24 pm

    I hate to say it. But I really don’t think that the bombshell that he knew 36 hours in advance brings this case out of the woods.

    Oh, definitely agreed.

    Also, what Holly said. When it comes to murders of trans people, you see this “well it’s never right to kill anybody, but….” shit all the time. All. The. Time.

  16. Jesse
    April 20, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    I hate the “(x) panic” defenses, with every inch of my being. They completely ignore how so many people who are trans, who are queer, who are (not-so-visible-minority,) might, y’know, want to keep that part of themselves a bit more private. Because knowledge like that going public can mess up friendships, careers, lives. Transphobia runs rampant and those who are known to be trans by others run the very serious and very real risk of losing their lives, or “at least” being physically assaulted. I know no actual numbers, but it seems as if loss of life is an even greater risk for women who are trans, thanks to the oh-so-“wonderful” intersectionality of misogyny and transphobia, and perhaps a few other things at that. (Of course, this does not mean risks to men who are trans, and any other person who falls under the trans label, are any less dangerous or real. Intersectionality can really multiply the dangers though, with TWOC typically being at higher risk than white trans women and so forth.)
    Angie Zapata, as is quoted in the OP, was not being “deceptive” by being who she was, and she was also taking the even greater risk of informing potential partners of the fact that she was a woman who is trans — certainly an open/honest approach, though the reasons for remaining stealth are complex and vary by individual and I would never presume nor label the desire to keep such information to one’s self as being “deceptive.”
    The truth of the matter is that Angie Zapata’s murderer was so incensed at the knowledge of Angie Zapata’s medical history that he felt he had to take her life. Her very existence offended him so much that he decided to remove her from the world. Perhaps he had been attracted to her and felt anger at that, who knows? He did not see her as the woman that she was, and he definitely didn’t see her as a human being.
    The defence in this case is trying to say that Angie Zapata lied, and the defendent’s rage at the lie lead to a relatively excusible action. First of all, no matter what the time in-between finding out and murdering somebody is, IMHO lying/deception are NEVER reasons to kill somebody. If that is the case, we should all make sure to become enraged the next time we catch a politician in a lie and then pull out some kind of “political figure panic” defense. (I am, of course, not being serious — please don’t do this nor think I am actually suggesting people should.)
    Second of all, Angie Zapata was. Not. Lying. She was not lying by being trans, she was not lying by dressing the way she did, she was not lying by being who she was. Angie Zapata was not a “man in a dress” pretending to be a woman. Angie Zapata was a woman, a woman who was also trans, and a human being worthy of the respect we are supposed to be giving to each other (but so rarely seem to do on all fronts.)

  17. Featherstone, QC
    April 20, 2009 at 4:49 pm

    “well it’s never right to kill anybody, but….” shit all the time. All. The. Time.”

    In this criminal case, what would be relevant is if the Defendant found out that his girlfriend had a penis and it caused him to be in the “heat of passion” such that he would act without reflection – making his crime not one of Murder but voluntary Manslaughter. It is not a defense as such, but rather an attempt to mitigate the crime to one of a lesser grade for the reason that the Defendant did not have the requisite mens rea to commit murder under the circumstances.

  18. Mandolin
    April 20, 2009 at 4:53 pm

    “I know no actual numbers, but it seems as if loss of life is an even greater risk for women who are trans, thanks to the oh-so-”wonderful” intersectionality of misogyny and transphobia, and perhaps a few other things at that.”

    My understanding was that the most vulnerable group was trans women of color.

  19. April 20, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    The entire reason the “trans panic” defense works is because of what Holly just said — there’s a pretty popular social narrative that “finding out” someone’s genitals don’t look how you expected them to look justifies an anger so uncontrollable that it’s akin to a mental snap, and you shouldn’t be held responsible for your actions. A parrallel is the defense to murder/assault which allows a perpetrator to be less culpable if s/he found her/his partner in bed with someone else — our social consensus is that seeing your partner having sex with another person is so emotionally destabilizing that you lack the proper state of mind to fully intend to murder someone, and since your actions were directed at this one specific person in this one specific context, you aren’t a menace to society and you aren’t totally to blame.

    Unpacking that a bit further, it’s disturbing to equate the emotions one may feel after catching your significant other cheating on you, with the emotions one may feel when someone’s sexual organs didn’t match up to their expectations. (Not that I actually agree with the idea that you should be able to kill your partner if you catch them cheating, or that the law even agrees, but that’s another issue — just using it as a simple parallel here). If I meet a dude and he tells me that he’s a great lay, and we go back to my place and it turns out that he has erectile issues and his dick won’t work, do I get to react with violent rage? After all, he represented his genitals as looking and functioning in a particular way, and it turns out they don’t. Can I “panic”?

    Or if it’s more than a genitalia issue and it’s about one’s entire identity, if I have the misfortune of going home with a white supremacist and he discovers that I’m not exactly an Aryan princess, can he physically attack me? Heck, what if I lied and said I was 100% Northern European and then got pregnant, then told him he was going to beget a racially “impure” baby? That’s guaranteed to make any white supremacist angry. Would violence against me be justified?

    I know I’m getting a little far afield here, but the point is that the trans panic defense is acceptable only if there’s a social consensus that being trans (or not having your genitals “match” your outside appearance, as defined in a pretty narrow and biologically unrealistic sense) is morally reprensible. The “crimes of passion” defense — killing someone when you catch them cheating — is acceptable because we mostly agree that cheating is morally reprehensible, and therefore seeing the person you love cheat on you is so awful that it may, in some circumstances, mitigate your responsibility for violence. The fact that we could also mostly agree that violence out of “panic” is acceptable when someone’s body does not appear to conform to your gender expectations is deeply disturbing.

  20. Melissa
    April 20, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    Jesse, the “enraged” defense doesn’t get someone completely off the hook, only for first degree murder. And maybe not even in Colorado, I’m not familiar with the law there. But second degree murder can still carry a sentence of life imprisonment in most states I’m familiar with.

  21. April 20, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    But Featherstone, the “heat of passion” defense relies on the premise that a reasonable person could or very well may act in the same way under that set of circumstances (they might become “temporarily insane”). Which is what I was getting at in my comment above — we mostly agree that a reasonable person would not (or should not) kill someone because they find out the person isn’t actually white; we mostly agree that a reasonable person would not (or should not) kill someone for having a flaccid penis even if they promised a hard one. We mostly agree on those things even if the killer in the first scenario is a white supremacist, or in the second scenario is intensely sexually aroused. We agree on those things because we have a social consensus re: what is moral vs. immoral, and what is reasonable to be angry about. Finding out someone is cheating by catching them in the act? Justifiable anger, to the point of possibly mitigating violence. Finding out someone is, say, Jewish? We understand that the white supremacist is going to be angry, but we legally draw the line when he commits an act of violence and does something that we as a society deem to be unreasonable. I’m not sure that any defense attorney would be taken seriously if he were to argue that his white supremacist client should only be guilty of manslaughter for killing a Jewish person, because the white supremacist was “deceived.” Mens rea and criminal responsibility, as any first-year law student quickly figures out, is a little more complicated than simply “He had a guilty mind and the requisite intent.”

    So the question, then, is why do we as a society deem it reasonable to react in a violent way when someone’s genitals or other parts of their body don’t confirm to your expectations?

  22. Jesse
    April 20, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    @ Mandolin in #19:
    Which is why I mentioned “TWOC,” Trans Women Of Colour, in the part in parentheses just after the line you quoted. I was -trying- to state that trans women are marginalized in some ways more than trans men, but I actually have no way of knowing this whatsoever and trans men are definitely marginalized as well. Angie Zapata was a TWOC and I am aware of this, again, was trying to point out the risks associted with being a woman overlap with and add to the risks associated with being trans.

    @ Melissa in #21:
    I did not mean to imply that I thought someone would get completely off the hook, and I am sorry for giving that impression — I see now that I should not have referred to it as an “excusible action.” I just meant to convey that the “enraged” defense is supposed to somehow make the action of murder less deplorable, more understandable, etc. Anything to make it seem like something other than the murder of a woman who did nothing wrong. Even if he still gets a lengthy prison term, what sort of message does that send out to the public at large if this “enraged” defense works? Yeah, you killed somebody and you shouldn’t have done that, here’s your sentence, but hey we kind of understand you weren’t in your right mind because your victim’s very existence goes against your understanding of the world.

  23. AnonymousCoward
    April 20, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    Defense attorneys have an ethical obligation to zealously defend their client (especially public defenders), which *might* excuse the bullshit “trans panic” defense so long as it’s permitted by statute. However, nothing in that obligation puts a defense attorney in the position of attacking the identity of the victim, which makes the use of male pronouns nothing more than an asshole move on their part.

    However, as Cara highlighted, I feel the fact that there’s a hate-crime statute is quite relevant to the discussion; you could make a compelling case that such statutes should be read to exclude the sort of evidence the defense is providing as irrelevant. Since killing someone on the basis of their status as trans is punished with a *higher* sentence, any attempt by the defense to reference this status as mitigation should be rejected as irrelevant.

  24. Amanda in the South Bay
    April 20, 2009 at 7:49 pm


    I think the underlying reason why so many people are just fine with the trans panic defense line of reasoning is homophobia. To many people, trans women, for example, are just deluded freaks who want to have sex with guys, or something just as ridiculous. When a man finds out that the woman he is dating is trans, its like he’s being seduced by a guy pretending to be a woman, which somehow in a fucked up calculus =homosexual predator, or whatever.

    For bigots, “deception” really is the heart of the matter, along with a whopping dose of transphobia: that no amount of anything can change the sex we were assigned at birth.

  25. April 20, 2009 at 8:13 pm

    FWIW… of the nearly 40 reported cases of people who died violently during 2007 in apparent trans hate crimes — from last year’s “Transgender Day of Rembrance” list — almost of them were trans women or MTF crossdressers, or were on the femmy side of being gender variant– it wasn’t always clear how people identified themselves. There was also a drag king; one person who was listed with a male name, but there were so few details about their death that I don’t know what gender they identified as; and the other was a cisgender man who the alleged killer thought was spreading rumors about him sleeping with trans women.) The vast majority of the U.S. victims were POC. A number of the victims were sex workers, likely because of they couldn’t find any other work. Which I mention only because it meant they faced the heightened risk of violence that many sex workers.

    In the few instances where these cases are taken to trial — most remain unsolved — “trans panic” defenses have been be norm, not the exception.

  26. Kristen J.
    April 20, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    We agree on those things because we have a social consensus re: what is moral vs. immoral, and what is reasonable to be angry about.

    YES, YES, YES, YES, YES…times two billion.

  27. Bagelsan
    April 20, 2009 at 11:29 pm

    FWIW… of the nearly 40 reported cases of people who died violently during 2007 in apparent trans hate crimes — from last year’s “Transgender Day of Rembrance” list — almost of them were trans women or MTF crossdressers, or were on the femmy side of being gender variant– it wasn’t always clear how people identified themselves.

    I’m assuming that mostly they were murdered by a man(men)/male partner as well. Women don’t seem to get cut as much slack when they flip out and kill someone, and they also don’t seem to *do* it as much in the first place either. (I’m also assuming most trans women are straight, just like most cis women. Please correct me if I’m wrong.) Yay anxious masculinity.

    This “panic” defense is bullshit. Trying to use it in a court of law should be a hate crime all by itself. And purposefully, repeatedly using the wrong name is despicable (can’t “contempt” cover this one?)

  28. April 20, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Don’t defenses have to be accepted by a judge before the trial begins? I mean, a lawyer can’t just bring up any cockamamie defense. They have to submit it to a judge first, and the judge gets to decide if she or he will hear it, right? I’m pretty sure that’s the case, and I’m pretty sure this trans panic poor excuse for a defense falls under the category of “cockamamie.” This is the type of bullshit that makes my brain short circuit.

  29. Amy H.
    April 21, 2009 at 12:48 am

    Aside from the general transphobic defense, I’m just really irritated with most everyone involved. The prosecution has, for the most part, referred to Angela Zapata as Angela and she, but keeps slipping and using the name Justin. The defense, of course, consistently refers to Angela as Justin and uses “this man” and “he” and tries to force witnesses to do the same. The media sits in the middle really. I was watching the trial on CNN and I was impressed by how the topic of language did come up and they tried to refer to Angela as Angela and with proper pronoun use, making a note of the transphobic language being used by the defense (it also came up that the language used to make laws was clear that the persons involved were expected to be white men, so it was a recognition of the patriarchy) but I’m really, really tired of them referring to this as a “gay” issue, which is what they are continually doing.
    Angela Zapata was not gay, she was a transgendered woman. Transgender =/= gay and I’m really tired of it. Its disrespectful and even as some of their speakers say that Angela represented herself as she was, a woman, they belie the truth of their words by refering to this as an issue of homosexuality. Sure homophobia was probably involved, as it tends to be in a culture which punishes members of the community who deviate from gendered and sexed norms, including partner choice, but this is a trans issue, not a gay one.

    Has anyone else noticed this? Is anyone as equally infuriated?

  30. April 21, 2009 at 6:15 am

    What is cisgendered privilege? I’ll give an example.

    Suppose your baby sister was found in her apartment, her possessions missing, her head literally bashed in so it was concave. And the killer is found within a few weeks, still with some of the goods in his possession. He confesses to the crime.

    Cisgendered privilege is the unquestioning assumption that he won’t be set free, that the some members of the jury won’t consider your sister something loathsome to be exterminated for the public good, a sex criminal purely because of her existence.

    I’m talking about the Angie Zapata case of course, where there were two prosecutions, not one. One of the killer, and one of his victim.

    If there hadn’t been extensive eyewitness evidence that contradicted the killer’s story, if his profile on a chat site not listed him as bisexual, then his flimsy story about Trans Panic would have been believed as a matter of course by some, and some of those would never have convicted him.

    This trial has already shown that if during a robbery you animalistically slaughter a teenage girl in the most brutal fashion, literally smashing her head in with repeated blows, and you get caught, you’re toast.

    EXCEPT if she’s Transgendered. Then there’s an excellent chance you’ll get off scot-free, unless you do something really, really stupid so any old ‘n’bull story about “Trans Panic” won’t wash.

    Thinks about that. It’s open season on teenage girls, and no bag limit for rape and murder in the course of robbery – unless you do something truly spectacularly stupid. Just make sure the victim is Transgendered, and you’ll have HUNDREDS of people defending you, no matter how flimsy your story. Even if you confess. A hung jury, with some wanting you to get a lethal injection, but just as many thinking you should get a commendation. Some will even see you as doing the Lord’s work.

    Look at these comments – comments that have made it through moderation to remove the trolls and crazies – on the CNN site: [Mod Note: Severe Trigger Warning]

    Jackie April 17th, 2009 11:34 am ET

    This is a sex crime committed by a transgender …they shoiuld be held to sex crimes just like rapist or pediphiles its not a hate crime its a sex crime.


    D in Chicago April 17th, 2009 11:39 am ET

    Send him for anger treatment only. She “he” deceived this man into having sex with another man, and he subsequently couldn’t get over it and was filled with humiliation and rage.

    D.Ysasi April 17th, 2009 11:40 am ET

    This man reacted to the situation Zapata put him in, I do not believe he intended to kill this man/woman. My prayers are with the victim and her/his family, although I also believe Mr. Andrade was and is a victim himself………..Good Luck Mr. Andrade!!!

    Tom April 17th, 2009 12:06 pm ET

    This is the worst kind of deceit. I think the real crime here is the fact that this poor guy has to suffer with knowing he was intimate with another male. He was the REAL victim. What did this he/she think was going to happen? All this political correctness is sickening. He should be sentenced to a lighter sentence and the dead guys family should have to pay for his counseling for the rest of his life.

    Caleb April 17th, 2009 12:09 pm ET

    I feel for the accused..I’d vote not guilty on all charges..that thing was asking for it. HE got what HE deserved for pretending to be a girl. Whats up with this site calling him her???

    ed April 17th, 2009 12:09 pm ET

    the defendant beat justin to death he didnt shoot or stab him. i would have done the same thing we need laws to prevent gays from doing this to people. society thinks homosexualty is ok that dont make it not a sin. approval is a JUDGEMENT as well as saying its wrong and sick.

    Jeffery Rogers April 17th, 2009 2:13 pm ET

    re-criminalize these deviants, have them register as sexual deviant persons, rescind the gay rights laws and put morality back into a well ordered society. By the way any crime against persons has an element of hate so hate crime laws are bogus.

    Lord Is My Shepard April 17th, 2009 2:22 pm ET

    The Lord Works in mysterious ways.

    Mark April 17th, 2009 2:37 pm ET

    How can you not tell that this a man? To me he just exterminated one more peice of human garbage, and for someone to lie about their sex and have sexual relations with you IS rape! I really dont care who this offends because, homosexual behavior in general should be outlawed.

    mike April 17th, 2009 3:34 pm ET

    By deceiving Allen, Angie raped him. The reason why rape is so heinous is because of the mental scarring and emotional pain that it causes the victim. In a rape case the rapist is similar to a hunter, in a transgender case the rapist is a trapper, either way the prey ends up being damaged.

    If he/she knew that Allen was straight then imo that should be a crime. Although murder is wrong no matter what, a rapist being killed isnt as bad as an innocent person.

    Josh April 17th, 2009 3:44 pm ET

    If the defendant was lied to by the victim then i completely support the defendant and feel no remorse for the victim at all and belive the defendant should be set free. On the other hand if he was aware of it actually being a male then it is a hate crime and he shoudl be punished accordingly.

    Brian April 17th, 2009 3:47 pm ET

    Shouldn’t Justin be posthumously charged with a hate crime too? I think so.

  31. April 21, 2009 at 8:28 am

    Wow, those comments from CNN are unreal, inhumane, and deeply disturbing. When this is the “discourse” that your average person takes part in, it’s a pretty terrifying environment for trans people. And these are the conditions which allow violence against trans people to continue unchecked.

  32. LSG
    April 21, 2009 at 8:33 am

    I was going to try to write something analytic about the ‘provocation’ defense, but now I’m too busy trying not to cry or vomit on my keyboard in the middle of the office.

  33. Simplejewel
    April 21, 2009 at 9:22 am

    Not to be a stickler, but a “Trigger Warning” might be good for the Pam’s Blend “What does Justice for Angie mean?” link.

    The comments in that thread link to incredibly transphobic comments made at CNN and the CNN story with the gruesome details of Angie’s murder. Very disturbing stuff.

  34. Simplejewel
    April 21, 2009 at 9:23 am

    I guess someone posted said comments here anyway…

  35. April 21, 2009 at 9:36 am

    great post.

  36. April 21, 2009 at 9:56 am

    Simplejewel — my apologies, I didn’t see the CNN stuff on the Pam’s House Blend thread. I’m adding a trigger warning, and I also added one to Zoe’s comment.

  37. April 21, 2009 at 10:37 am

    Thanks Cara. I should have put one in myself. I really, really hope nobody got hurt by my thoughtless actions.

    I guess I’m just fatigued. I’ve been fighting a rearguard action (in company with many allies) against this stuff for so long, I’ve been de-sensitised. At the Nashua Telegraph, the Eagle Tribune, at much worse stuff than this at the Denver Post and Greeley Tribune… and even at a site I used to feel safe in, Darwin Central. I just don’t see it any more. I need to be reminded sometimes that this is NOT normal, this is NOT acceptable, that this is NOT usual, especially for those with cisgendered privilege. For them, it must be shocking, terrible, horrific even. For me it’s just another task, another day in the life of a Trans activist. A good week is when no-one I know dies. A bad week is like this one, with 3 friends gone. That gets to me in ways that mere words or comments don’t.

    I guess also that I don’t see myself as a victim. I’ve been assigned that role by others, but that requires my consent. I refuse that role. I get angered rather than depressed. OK, I get depressed too, but any trans woman who makes it to age 50 has reserves of coping that most women can’t conceive of. We know that, it gives us confidence, and an energy that is indefatigable.

    Just as long as children aren’t harmed. That gets to us. it tends to make us mad though, an outrage that goes deep into our core, in a way that no threat or assault on us personally could. Ok, I’m heteronormative, with a hypertrophied maternal instinct. It’s me, and many other older trans women like me. We can do nothing for the teenage girls we were, but we can help others so they don’t go through what we did.

    Something else – threads like this one. People of goodwill, genuinely trying to understand and help. Ok, sometimes they screw up. Meh. No big deal. It energises us though, it restores us. YOU energise and restore us.

    A complete opposite to the (Trigger Warning In Spades) New Radical Lesbian Feminist Front. Whose founder is now making her inimitable presence felt in the Denver Post comments section.

  38. April 21, 2009 at 10:45 am

    Wow, Zoe. Trigger Warning indeed. It’s times like these that I really do wish I had the power to revoke the “feminist” label. And when I really do understand why others have chosen to stop using it for themselves.

  39. April 21, 2009 at 11:05 am

    “Feminist” is like “Christian”. You can tell the true Feminists and the true Christians because they’re decent human beings first and foremost. It’s that that causes them to be Feminists, or Christians.

    It’s those who use their belief-system to justify pre-existing hatred that can give both movements an undeserved bad name.

    I’m no Christian, and at times I don’t feel I’m much of a Feminist either. Too devoted to Trans issues, not enough to the plight of the women in the Swatt valley for example, or the rape victims in parts of Africa. I also have a life, I’m doing a PhD, and am the parent of a 7 year old boy. And it’s 2am local, so i better grab some sleep.

    My apologies again for my thoughtlessness. How can I criticise others for minor mis-steps when I make so many of my own? Thanks for not taking me to task on that.

  40. April 21, 2009 at 11:45 am

    Oh great, Dirt has started an organization and it’s called the New Radical Lesbian Feminist Front? That is fucking hilarious, or it would be if everything Dirt writes wasn’t just full of borderline-delusional, angry, hate-filled stuff about anything related to the word “trans.” I think she wants to be the Fred Phelps of trans stuff, our very own gender non-conforming faux-radical-feminist Fred Phelps. I’m sorry, I can’t be bothered to take any of that seriously except insofar as it defines some distant edge of anti-trans nuttery.

  41. Bagelsan
    April 21, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    Wow. Fuck Dirt. That’s sick, and I can’t even finish reading it. Every word of that is an embarrassment to the human race.

  42. rioTgirl
    April 21, 2009 at 2:03 pm

    This is all so horrific. I have been following the case and reading so many comments calling Ms Zapata “a rapist”. I can’t imagine the mentality of people who can think this way. Actually, unfortunately I can and I am reminded of this time and time again.

    And dirt is just being dirt. Making poor connections and strange “intellectual” companions. How a feminist can be comfortable placing blame on a dead woman for her own murder IS beyond me.

  43. Nora
    April 21, 2009 at 2:08 pm

    I have to admit that until I read the CNN comments someone pasted above I could not quite believe that anyone actually felt Andrade should go free. I still cling to the hope that these commenters are merely trolls attempting to achieve maximal shock value.

    While I do not believe in capital punishment, nor in extremely long prison sentences, the idea that the victim of the crime being transsexual should affect the sentence is abhorrent to me, and it scares me that people who think that way apparently do exist.

    That said, while it is disturbing to read of the “trans panic defense” even being attempted, does it have any significant track record of succeeding? Has, in recent times, anyone received a significantly lighter sentence for a murder as a result of the “trans panic defense”? Are such arguments openly acknowledged in court rulings in the United States? While still every bit as distasteful, this defense is not as actively dangerous if it is merely an ultimately desperate and ineffectual legal tactic.

    I agree with Cara that the use of the victim’s legal name and biological sex, rather than her chosen name and gender, is a tactic to confuse the jury — but I honestly think that it’s a poorly-chosen tactic that will backfire. Had the victim not been survived by supportive family members, I believe this strategy could very well have succeeded in implanting the subconscious idea in the jury members that the victim was somehow less than human, but as it is, I think it will merely make the arguments of the defense appear heartless and crude.

  44. April 21, 2009 at 2:11 pm

    I want to add the following comment that I just posted over on Donna Rose’s blog to this discussion, since it relates to many of the issues discussed here, especially the intersection between hate crimes laws and “x panic” defenses:

    You’re right, the “trans panic” or “gay panic” defense is not a complete defense to murder. In other words, even if the jury buys it, which is looking more and more unlikely as the trial proceeds, Andrade will still be convicted of second degree murder. Because he is charged as a repeat offender (he has 6 prior felony convictions), even with a second degree murder conviction, he’s not going to be out of prison for a very long time.

    The “trans panic” defense is not the result of court decisions by bigots, unless you want to go back to the English common law centuries ago. Regardless of its origin, that defense is now enshrined in the homicide statutes of virtually every state. The original rationale (in jolly ole England) was that a husband who flies into a rage when he sees his wife and lover in bed together and kills one or both of them (often called, “in the heat of passion) is less culpable than someone who murders someone for money, for example. Thus, the degree of the offense and the potential punishment goes down when the defendant can convince the jury that he killed the victim in the “heat of passion” or an “uncontrollable rage.” To prove such a defense, however, the defendant also has to prove that a “reasonable person” would react to the situation in the same way he did, i.e., that his rage was “reasonable” or “justified.” As public opinion changes as to what is acceptable and what isn’t, the motivations that can be used to prove such a defense, hopefully, will narrow. That’s happening much too slowly for me, however. My solution: every state should adopt statutes barring the use of the victim’s race, sex, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity or expression, etc. (i.e., all the categories included in the federal hate crimes bill) as a defense to a homicide charge of any degree. It’s my understanding that California did something like that in the wake of the Gwen Araujo trial.

    As Autumn Sandeen has pointed out in her blogs on the Angie Zapata trial on Pam’s House Blend, it’s extremely ironic that Andrade can use one of the categories listed in Colorado’s hate crimes statute (Angie’s “transgender status”) to obtain a conviction for second, rather than first, degree murder. That is one of the primary reasons that homicide statutes need to be amended to limit the scope of the “panic” defense. Otherwise, the protections provided by hate crimes legislation will be incomplete.

    Lastly, the hate crimes charge is important here because of its symbolic value, and also because it allows the prosecution to tell the jury about Andrade’s statements in jailhouse phone calls that indicate what he really thought about Angie, and still thinks about the rest of us, i.e., that “gay things need to die.”

  45. April 21, 2009 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you Cara and Zoe. Much appreciated.

  46. Anon
    April 21, 2009 at 10:45 pm

    Did some google research, comments other places were to be expected and it makes me very sad. That anyone could relate to the kind of rage needed to kill in cold blood amazes me and distresses me. Hopefully we have a world where Angie could feel safe some day.

  47. April 22, 2009 at 1:59 am

    Nora – yes it does. Last case that comes to mind, the victim was shot twice, once in the side, once in the back as she tried to escape.

    The killer was convicted of voluntary manslaughter on a “Trans Panic” defence. That was at the end of last year.

    Had his car not stalled so he couldn’t leave the crime scene, it would be just another murder, no motive, no suspects. 70% of killings of transgendered people remain unsolved (vs 30% for those not transgendered), so to even get to trial is rare.

    Alexis King was the victim, Terron Oates the killer. Details at

    Also, in Yuma, AZ the killer of Amancio Morales plea bargained down an attempted manslaughter charge. … Court records said Morales killer became enraged when he realized the Morales was biologically male.

    Morales had been repeatedly stabbed, then dumped in a river. Not even “manslaughter”but “attempted manslaughter”.

    Does it happen? Yes. Does it work? Yes. Not always, but I’d even say “usually”.

    The chance of being murdered for a US citizen is 1 in 18,000
    For transgendered US citizens, 1 in 1,100
    For transgendered black or latina women, 1 in 8.

    That’s assuming the APA’s figures on number of transgendered people are correct, and we have good reason to doubt that. My “best guess” is that it’s 10 times less likely.

    So 1 in 11,000 for transgendered people in general, and “only” 1 in 80 for TWOC.

    trigger warning

    This, of course, is part of why my rant-blog is Twice Immigrant: I’m an immigrant to Canada, and an immigrant to women’s country. I belong here, sure enough; I’ve lived here 16 years. In women’s country, I mean.

    A little meme went around Livejournal recently; it asked the commenters to imagine why the poster might possibly be in the back of a police car for.

    Cute little thing, yes? Only for me, it’s an idea that brings gut-watering fear. I pointed out today, echoed by a number of my trans brothers and sisters who read, that if you ever see *me* in the back of a police car, GET STARTED ON GETTING ME THE FUCK OUT. Because you can guarantee I’ll be in mortal fear, of sexual assault and death. Because that’s the special sting in the tail of sexual assault for us: when they find out we’re “not real”, we get *killed* after we’re raped.

    Twice I have fought for my life against a rapist, knowing that if he “found out”, it’d be me who ended up on the front page, dead. Today, we remember so many of our brothers and sisters who weren’t gifted with my privilege, of being big and strong and a former varsity athlete, and thus gifted with the chance to fight back successfully. Hell, Duanna Johnson was 6’5″. It didn’t keep her alive. I’ve been lucky as anything – and how fucked up is that, that I feel *lucky* to have only been raped?

    Only last year, a ciswoman was put into the men’s jail by a large city police force, because they *thought* she might be post-op and trans.

    And I don’t know which is worse: that the only time it becomes a public issue is when it happens to a ciswoman, or that they’re doing it to people they even *think* might carry transcooties.

    Comment at

  48. Jadey
    April 22, 2009 at 7:01 am

    I read about this elsewhere and it made me sick. The only thing that brings hope is that Angie’s family and friends have been such staunch defenders of her name and her pronouns and HER on the witness stand, that the defense’s strategy is coming off as dickish and mean, as well it should, to observers, and hopefully jurists as well (I think this is a jury trial??). I think it was in Pam’s House Blend (linked above) that this was mentioned as possibly occurring. Degrading someone shouldn’t be considered an acceptable strategy.

  49. Jadey
    April 22, 2009 at 7:03 am

    Sorry, specifically referring to the pronoun tactic in the previous comment in terms of the frinds and family correcting the defense and this hopefully revealing the defense’s machinations for what they are.

  50. Filipino
    April 29, 2009 at 10:07 am

    This guy sounds dangerous, I heard he got life without parole =)

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