Any LGBT-related news coming out of Washington, D.C., has almost universally been negative for the past four months (has it only been four months?). This week a rare glimmer of good news shone through.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions, known for his history of bigoted views and votes, condemned violence against transgender individuals, seemingly equating anti-trans incidents with other types of bias-motivated violence.
Sessions’ comments were issued in reference to the 49-year prison sentence handed down this week for Joshua Brandon Vallum, who killed Mercedes Williamson, a transgender woman. Vallum first contended he killed Williamson when he learned she was transgender, but later admitted he killed her to prevent fellow gang members from learning her gender identity. He was the first person prosecuted under the LGBT-inclusive federal hate-crimes law.
“Today’s sentencing reflects the importance of holding individuals accountable when they commit violent acts against transgender individuals,” Sessions said in a statement. “The Justice Department will continue its efforts to vindicate the rights of those individuals who are affected by bias-motivated crimes.”
If this were the Obama administration, this type of statement from the U.S. Justice Department would be par for the course; that administration recognized the value and contributions of transgender Americans, and spoke out strongly against any infringement on trans rights, let alone incidents of violence or hate. However, we’re living in a new political reality, where LGBT people don’t receive anywhere near the same level of credibility or respect from many officials in Washington, D.C.
So this development, while underwhelming, still signals a modicum of progress. Progressive causes have suffered hit after hit since Donald Trump took office, which has inspired many to fight harder — but has also instilled a sense of despair in many. Thus, a tepid statement of support for prosecuting cases of anti-trans violence on equal footing with other bias crimes is a welcomed change, if not a full cause for celebration.
Make no mistake, Sessions is not a friend to the LGBT community, nor any other marginalized population; his record proves otherwise. But his statement illustrates that, on some level, he may recognize that anti-trans violence is not something that the majority of Americans will stand for, nor will they support officials who condone or ignore such crimes.