A homicide in Massachusetts during the first week of the new year has caused a great deal of anxiety. The murder, the first in the town of North Adams since 2013, occurred at the victim’s home. Mark Steele-Knudslien, the husband of 42-year-old Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, confessed to murdering Christa. He was arrested after turning himself in at the police station.
No motive has been released. A detail in the case has, however, made it stand out far more prominently than it otherwise would have: Christa was transgender. The Human Rights Campaign tweeted out on the murder, stating, “A tragic start to the new year. We mourn the loss of Christa Leigh Steele-Knudslien, whose death is now the first reported murder of a trans person in 2018.”
The comments to the tweet included pleas to end “hatred and ignorance” and the hope that 2018 will be less dangerous for transgender Americans than 2017 was. 2017 has been labeled the “deadliest year for transgender people” due to its 28 murders of transgender individuals. But like the above case, the person’s gender identity was not a known factor in any of the murders. The killings were an assortment of homicides ranging from random acts of violence to robbery to domestic violence. In the same way, Christa’s murder appears to be domestic violence.
In a strange interpretation of community identity, LGBT media and advocacy groups connect all violence or insult towards anyone LGBT as a direct attack on all LGBT people, regardless of the motive. If a transgender person is murdered, it is presented as a hate crime and collected with other transgender murders. The list becomes evidence of an overall threat, to transgender people specifically and LGBT people generally, requiring awareness and action.
If Disparity Is the Issue, Why Ignore Domestic Violence?
The HRC is well aware of the effects of tweeting “the first reported murder of a trans person in 2018,” as LGBT people have become accustomed to outrage and anxiety over anti-trans violence. Taken at face value, it appears some LGBT advocacy groups consider even the most remote possibility of a hate crime important enough to rally around. They believe in an outside threat with such conviction that they report any evidence that can be construed to support this belief.
From their perspective, it is vital these murders are well-known and widely reported to highlight what they believe are ongoing problems of equality and safety. Thus it becomes relevant to ask why much larger concerns of violence within the LGBT community do not receive the same attention.
The rate of domestic violence for LGBT people is astonishingly high. From The Advocate, a gay-oriented publication, in 2014:
The National Violence Against Women survey found that 21.5 percent of men and 35.4 percent of women living with a same-sex partner experienced intimate-partner physical violence in their lifetimes, compared with 7.1 percent and 20.4 percent for men and women, respectively, with a history of only opposite-sex cohabitation. Transgender respondents had an incidence of 34.6 percent over a lifetime according to a Massachusetts survey. In 2010 the CDC reported that 43.8 percent of lesbians, 61.1 percent of bisexual women, 26 percent of gay men, and 37.3 percent of bisexual men experienced sexual assault, stalking or other physical violence from intimate partners.
The Advocate recognizes a concern here: “Myths about domestic violence, victims’ fear and shame, a silence that stems from a desire not to harm perceptions of the LGBT community — all these together contribute to making the problem invisible to others.”
LGBT people as a whole faced extremely low hate crime rates, at 0.001 percent yearly according to FBI reports. About 1.4 million Americans identify as transgender, and 28 transgender people were murdered in 2017. But more than half of all women who engage in same-sex relationships report domestic violence.
It is shocking that LGBT media and advocacy groups obsess endlessly over hate crimes, bullying, and anti-LGBT attitudes when such a dramatic issue is directly in front of them inside their own community. As The Advocate article implies, PR concerns appear to influence this decision.
The Persecution Narrative Serves a Political Purpose
Identity politics involve a remarkably vital need to maintain a specific public narrative to remain important in the national discussion. LGBT organizations would have very little to do if most gay and transgender people stopped looking to them for guidance and simply lived their lives. These organizations need to focus on threats that inspire action, outrage, and, most importantly, attention from the media. The high rate of LGBT domestic violence invites unwanted scrutiny, whereas “the deadliest year for transgender people” inspires sympathy and a continued seat at the national table.
The LGBT movement was founded to battle outside threats to members’ freedoms and rights. Later it became fundamentally important to gain widespread social acceptance and legitimacy. Today the focus seems to be loudly shouting at the smallest offense or reporting the most remote and isolated act of violence as an immediate threat to all LGBT people across the nation.
While there is nothing particularly wrong with highlighting the murder of a member of one’s tribe and mourning together in solidarity, it does matter when that murder is used for political purposes. LGBT media and advocacy groups will include Christa in their annual list of “transgender murders” to perpetuate the false narrative of a dangerous environment for transgender individuals in our country. Christa’s death will be included in the statistics that influence public policy.
Lying About Their Stories Does Victims No Justice
We require accurate statistics, and those who do face genuine hate crimes are diminished by linking their stories with random violence due solely to a shared sexual or gender identity. More importantly, victims like Christa get ignored in the domestic violence discussion when their deaths are politicized. Instead of focusing on funding, advocacy, and awareness campaigns that may have helped Christa, LGBT groups will instead continue fighting a threat that simply does not exist.
Every murder is tragic, and each victim deserves to be remembered, just as their murderers deserve just punishment. But no one is honored by having his or her name associated with a lie. Sadly, the LGBT world will view this crime as another attack on them, ignoring the relevant context and details, and experience a personal sense of tragedy and fear.
Perpetuating fear keeps advocacy alive and well-funded. Intentionally misleading the public for a greater cause currently has no consequence or repercussion. Despite the reality that this murder is likely a case of domestic violence, something a large portion of LGBT Americans report experiencing, very few will recognize this as a legitimate concern.
Somehow, the specter of anti-transgender hate and violent intent inspires more outrage, advocacy, and anxiety than the truth of LGBT domestic violence and the threat of intimate partner abuse. As profoundly disturbing as it sounds, it is entirely political. The political narrative thrives on fear more than action, and that is the motivation behind all LGBT organizations today.