By Lynda Myers
The writer, of Omaha, is president of the River City Gender Alliance
Sixteen years ago, a young Nebraskan, barely 21 years old, was brutally raped and murdered.
At 21, you are at the brink of adulthood -- growing into an adult and truly beginning your life. Brandon Teena was a young man who was on the brink of getting his life together in 1993. He had just moved to Richardson County, began to date a girl named Lana and made friends.
However, when his so-called friends, John Lotter, 22, and Marvin "Tom" Nissen, 21, discovered that he was transgender, they violently attacked him. On Christmas Eve 1993, two of these men beat and raped Brandon multiple times and threatened to kill him if he told the police of the attack.
Brandon found the courage to drag himself to his girlfriend Lana's house after the attack. Lana encouraged Brandon to report the assault to the police, who were disrespectful and refused to arrest either of the attackers, despite the fact that Brandon identified the men.
One week later, on New Year's Eve, Lotter and Nissen decided to track Brandon down. Brandon was beaten and shot to death, along with two friends, Lisa Lambert and Phillip DeVine.
Unlike many murderers of transgender people, Brandon's killers were arrested. Lotter is currently on death row, and Nissen is serving life in prison without parole.
Brandon's mother, however, believes that the three lives lost on New Year's Eve and the lives of Lotter and Nissen would have been saved if local law enforcement had acted in a timely manner to protect Brandon. Brandon's mother said that local police enabled Brandon's murder by not taking anti-transgender violence seriously.
Sixteen years ago, I was also a young, transgender-identified Nebraskan in Omaha. Hearing the story of Brandon's death was shocking. To this day, I am still saddened about Brandon Teena. Nothing has changed. I ask myself every day, who has such prejudice and hatred that he can commit such violent acts?
We risk our lives every day going to our jobs, the grocery store or even to the mailbox. We can stay at home afraid to go anywhere, but we somehow have the courage to go out and go about our day like there is nothing wrong.
Transgender people have family, friends, spouses and kids. We have jobs, play sports, are celebrities and teach. We are human beings. We need to stop the hate.
As we gather during the holidays with our friends and family, let us honor Brandon's life and the lives of Lisa and Phillip, who died because of their love for their friend. Let us also remember Lotter and Nissen, who learned to hate and to act with violence against anyone who was different.
As individuals, we have the power to speak to our friends and family about love and understanding. Mention Brandon's story this New Year's Day and talk about the transgender people you know or the stories you have read throughout the year. Educate each other about transgender issues and, as a New Year's resolution, promise to do your part in stopping violence against transgender people in Nebraska through education and legislation.
This will be the last year Nebraska goes without a hatecrimes law that protects all of us. That will give us something more to celebrate in 2010.
Midlands Voices essays reflect the views of the writer and not necessarily the editorial position of The World-Herald.