Leondra Head | Local & World Editor
The election of Donald Trump and running mate Mike Pence set off panic in gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender communities across the country, as people worried which of their divisive campaign promises would come true.
Despite being regarded by some as one of the most “pro-LGBT” Republican presidential nominees ever, who expressed sympathy for the LGBT community after the Orlando nightclub shooting, critics say his conservative advisers, Pence included and the Republican party’s anti-LGBT platform are a threat to the progress made during the Obama administration’s legacy.
“As a gay man, I felt safe under Obama’s presidency. However, I feel the complete opposite under Trump’s presidency,” Matthew Gates said, a senior journalism major from Bowie, Maryland. I was reading an article on the HRC about how LGBT harassment has increased since elections. Regardless of how the next four years go, I can validate that our nation’s LGBT community will always remain prideful and never stop fighting for liberation and equality.”
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, supporters of LGBT rights hailed the first federal hate crime conviction for the killing of a transgender woman in Mississippi. With President Donald Trump now in office, they worry about the future of such prosecutions.
Trump’s new attorney general, Jeff Sessions, opposed the 2009 hate crime law when he was a U.S. senator, saying it was overly broad and he thought it was unnecessary to include further protections for gay and transgender people. During his January confirmation hearing, Sessions told fellow senators they “can be sure I will enforce” the law, but some observers wonder about his commitment.
Sentencing in the Mississippi case is May 15. With a plea agreement in place, it’s unlikely Sessions could change the strategy in this prosecution.
Joshua Vallum, an ex-convict and top-ranking gang member, faces life in prison without parole for killing 17-year-old Mercedes Williamson, who was born male but transitioned to a female. Prosecutors say Vallum, 29, and Williamson dated and that he killed his transgender girlfriend because he worried fellow gang members would discover their relationship and kill both of them because gay sex was strictly forbidden by the Latin Kings gang.
Hate crimes have historically been a priority for the FBI and Justice Department. Investigations are typically initiated by the FBI and the attorney general doesn’t need to sign off on each prosecution.
Six Democrats in Congress wrote to Sessions on March 10 to ask the Justice Department to investigate as hate crimes the deaths of seven transgender women this year, including another one in Mississippi.
Crimes motivated by a loathing of sexual orientation or race will often be prosecuted under state hate crime charges, but those vary. Mississippi, for example, doesn’t include crimes against transgender people.