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MURDER IN THE FIRST DEGREE:

The murder of Angie Zapata has all the requisites for a first-degree murder charge even if the defense attorney
would like to downgrade it to second degree for killing someone with ‘second-class’ status.

by Kate Tarasenko

(Originally published in Weird Sisters West, pages 10-11; Oct.-Nov. 2008’s Election Edition)

Blaming the victim is a familiar legal wrangle for


defense attorneys obligated to zealously represent their
clients, even when those clients are confessed murder-
ers. But this time-honored dodge strikes many as
especially odious when considering the case of Angie
Zapata, a 21-year-old male-to-female transgender from
Greeley who, on July 17, was beaten to death with a
fire extinguisher by Allen Ray Andrade.

After dating Zapata for a few days, Andrade questioned


her biological gender after they engaged in one-way
oral sex at her apartment. This week, Andrade‟s
lawyer, Annette Kundelius, asked the court to
downgrade the murder charges against her client from
first- to second-degree, arguing that Zapata‟s reported
response – “I am all woman” – constituted “a highly
provoking act and would cause someone to have an Angie Zapata (photo courtesy of family)
aggressive action.”

But Crystal Middlestadt, director of training and education for the Colorado Anti-Violence Program, wants to make
perfectly clear that “choosing to not disclose one‟s transgender status does not make a victim at fault. Assailants are
responsible for their behavior.”

Weld County District Judge Marcelo Kopcow ruled that first-degree murder charges against Andrade would stand. He
dismissed the defense‟s assertion that Andrade acted in a fit of passion rather than deliberately, stating that if Andrade had
listened to “reason and humanity,” he might have chosen to leave, rather than stay and attack Zapata. Kopcow also said
that he weighed several bias-motivated statements made by Andrade, who was denied bail and remains in police custody.
Greeley Police Detective Greg Tharp has said that he overheard Andrade tell his girlfriend that “all gay things need to
die.” Andrade also previously referred to Zapata as “it.”

While human and civil rights are on a lurching but generally upward trajectory for gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals
and couples, too many transgender people are still struggling for the same recognition and acceptance. Their challenges
are handicapped by the unique questions that shroud their lives for everyone outside their circle of trust. And when a
murderer‟s actions are defended as somehow understandable in light of an alleged sexual betrayal, prosecuting crimes like
this one takes on a particular sense of urgency.

Middlestadt and the CAVP are on the front lines of the fight for gender equality and justice, and “dedicated to eliminating
violence within and against the GLBT communities in Colorado.” She is guided by one simple truth: “We all deserve to
be safe and respected all the time.”

The day-to-day issues surrounding sexual self-identification by transgenders (as well as the potentially off-topic question
of sexual orientation) are key to the discussion surrounding full disclosure. It doesn‟t help that transgenders make up
arguably the smallest segment of the GLBT community, owing primarily to the secrecy in which many live their lives.

Zapata reportedly met Andrade on a Latina/Latino social networking Web site, and they spent time together prior to her
murder.

Middlestadt acknowledges the maze of choices available to transgenders who demand unqualified acceptance, but says,
“I want to stress that taking risks never places a victim at fault for their own assault. We cannot control someone else‟s
behavior, only how we respond. Gaining more awareness of risks and options for safety in different situations can
empower us to make safer choices and to plan ahead for potential danger.”
Those potential dangers can exist anywhere, whether on mainstream dating Web sites or at clubs that cater specifically
to the GLBT community. “In queer and sex-positive spaces,” says Middlestadt, “hooking up inevitably happens.
Environments that foster sexual freedom can be liberating, but in the absence of positive role models for creating healthy
sexual and intimate relationships, it can be an especially unsafe space for LGBTQ youth.”

As to the question of disclosure – not just when or where, but „do I or don‟t I?‟ – the CAVP‟s mothership, the National
Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, says, “There is no absolute right or wrong answer to these questions. Such a
decision is very personal.”

The New York-based NCAVP states on its Web site: “Plenty of non-trans people do not have discussions about their
gender or bodies prior to having sex….Above all else, remember that it is your right to choose if or when to discuss your
gender identity, your genitalia, or any other part of your body. If someone insults or attacks you because of their
expectations about your body, [it] is never your fault.”

But entitlements to basic human rights, on par with heterosexuals, are tempered by the reality of anti-GLBT bigotry, since
the NCAVP site also advises: “While you do not owe it to anybody to talk about your genitals prior to a sexual encounter,
it may be safer to do so. It may also be less awkward or uncomfortable in general.” The site also offers many safe-dating
tips and strategies, and what to do if something goes wrong, including communicating a “silent alarm” or code word with
someone who‟s monitoring the trans-person‟s whereabouts.

While Zapata‟s murder has re-awakened awareness about violence against transgenders in particular and GLBT-related
hate crimes in general, it doesn‟t necessarily portend a rise in anti-GLBT crimes statewide. The 28-year-old Middlestadt,
who‟s been an advocate for the queer community since her college days back in her native Oregon, says, “It‟s hard to say
if the general trend of incidents of hate violence has gone up or down because of under-reporting. We can say, though,
that we have not seen any dips or spikes in reporting in the past 10 years. The number of incidents has remained
consistent.” In fact, according to a report released earlier this year by the NCAVP, Colorado saw 45 fewer reported
crimes between 2006 and 2007.

But, says Middlestadt, “Nationally, we have begun to see a trend… of increased reported incidents of bias-motivated
violence.” That number rose 24 percent between 2006 and 2007, with murders doubling, and sex assaults exploding by
more than 60 percent.

Like an echo of the conflict between reality and perception in the lives of transgenders, the prejudice in the news creates
another imbalance. Of the hate crimes stalking the local GLBT community, Middlestadt says, “These are not often
covered well or at all in the media. When there are stories in the media, CAVP receives calls asking why there has been an
increase in violence. Unfortunately, the rate at which this violence happens has been steady – just the media interest
fluctuates.”

More media coverage intuitively seems like a positive antidote to mainstream ignorance. But Middlestadt contends,
“We occasionally see spikes in [violent crime] reporting around major LGBTQ
political happenings.” She singles out Colorado‟s Amendment 2, the failed
ballot measure which sought to repeal anti-discrimination ordinances in 1996,
followed in 2003 by the U.S. Supreme Court‟s decision to overturn the sodomy
laws in Lawrence vs. Texas, as well as the perennial “same-gender marriage
debates,” all of which have had the perverse effect of jolting awake those who
would cause harm.

Another aspect of the problem of violence is one discussed even less often and
openly by its victims, but renders sexual borderlines meaningless. Middlestadt
says, “Violence within LGBTQ relationships continues to be vastly
under-reported and misunderstood. The basic use of power and control parallels
closely the patterns of abuse in heterosexual relationships.” Incidents of
domestic violence prompt many of the 300 calls to the CAVP crisis hotline
each year. Crystal Middlestadt, director
of training and education for the
Colorado Anti-Violence Program
But within GLBT relationships, says Middlestadt, “there are some special
circumstances …that add levels of complexity to the power and control
dynamic.” These include “the fear of being outed, internalized homophobia, and the small size of the community. This
increased complexity,” she finds, “often makes it harder for a victim to ask for and receive the assistance he or she may
need.” Just as with their hetero counterparts, many victims of domestic violence may feel personally responsible, adding
to their reluctance to report. Sometimes, they may not even know that theirs is a reportable offense.
Still, Middlestadt says, “While CAVP works with victims of various types of violence, including domestic violence,
sexual assault, HIV-motivated violence, police misconduct and random violence, one of the highest rates we document
is classified as bias-motivated violence or hate crimes.”

Another pre-trial hearing in the Zapata murder case is scheduled for November in Greeley. Felony hate-crime charges
have been added to Weld County District Attorney Ken Buck‟s list of indictments against the 31-year-old Andrade.

Middlestadt says her first women‟s self-defense class eight years ago “completely changed my life…I learned so
many amazing skills to increase my safety, more pro-actively see what my options are in any given situation, and to
communicate my boundaries assertively.” To that end, she calls on all GLBT people to remember that, “We deserve to
be treated with respect, and we have a right to be safe in our homes and communities.”

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The CAVP, founded in 1986, provides direct client services, including crisis intervention, information,
and referrals for LGBT victims of violence 24 hours a day. CAVP also provides technical assistance,
training, and education for community organizations, law enforcement, and mainstream service
providers on violence issues affecting the LGBT community.

To learn more, visit www.ncavp.org and www.coavp.org, or call 303-839-5204.

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SIDEBAR:

Transgender justice prevailed when Diane Schroer, a M2F retired U.S. Army colonel, recently won a groundbreaking
workplace discrimination lawsuit with the help of the ACLU. After accepting a position with the Library of Congress in
Washington, D.C., while still a living as a man, she informed her new boss of her plans to transition to female, at which
point the job offer was rescinded.

In an inspired decision from the bench, U.S. District Court Judge James Robinson compared Schroer‟s case to religious
discrimination, writing, “Imagine that an employee is fired because she converts from Christianity to Judaism. Imagine
too that her employer testified that he harbors no bias toward either Christians or Jews, but only „converts.‟ That would
be a clear case of discrimination „because of religion.‟ No court would take seriously the notion that „converts‟ are not
covered by the statute. Discrimination „because of religion‟ easily encompasses discrimination because of a change of
religion.”

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