Monday 23 March 2015

Around the World in 80 Gays : Part 6 - A Murder

Last Time : HIV/AIDS educator and campaigner 13) Prudence Mabele received an award named after 14) Felipa de Sousa who was prosecuted during the 1591 Brazilian Inquisition, as was 15) Xica Manicongo, the earliest known transsexual in Brazil, a country that regularly tops the list of murders by country each Transgender Day of Remembrance, which began in response to the murder of 16) Rita Hester.

16) Rita Hester (1963-1998) was a well-known and much-loved person on the lgbt scene in Boston, Massachusetts. Born male Rita lived the last decade of her life as a woman, open, proud, and unashamed of her identity. It may have been her love of life and vivacity that endeared her so much to the community. So it came as a massive shock when she was found mortally attacked at her home on 28th November 1998.

This wasn’t the first transgender murder in Boston. The murder of 17) Chanelle Pickett (1972-1995) prompted a vigil by the lgbt community. The vigil was followed a couple of years later by anger and frustration at the acquittal of Chanelle’s killer. Instead of murder he was found guilty of assault and battery. The injustice was still in the minds of the Boston community 16 months later when 16) Rita Hester was murdered.

Rita’s death was also marked by a vigil, one of the largest ever seen in Boston. The circumstances surrounding Rita’s murder are vague. She was last seen in one of Boston’s popular gay and transgender bars at which she was a regular customer. Witnesses saw her leave with two men, one of whom she knew. The next thing anyone knew was that Rita was bleeding to death from 20 stab wounds in her chest.

The stunned community banded together and held a march and candlelit vigil in Rita’s memory. One of the leading transgender activists who helped to organise the vigils for both Rita Hester and Chanelle Pickett was 18) Nancy Nangeroni.

Nancy has been involved in transgender activism since 1995 when she founded the Boston chapter of The Transgender Menace. One of the first actions she took was to organise the vigil for Chanelle Pickett. In 1998, after she helped organise the vigil for Rita, she and her partner Gordene MacKenzie produced a music video called “In Memory of Rita”.

It was also at about this time that the transgender community in Boston began to use a new symbol designed by Holly Boswell to be used to identify transgender issues. It has become universally accepted. The emblem (pictured) was promoted by Nancy Nageroni on “Gender Vision”, a cable television series on transgender issues aimed at a wider audience. This grew out of a radio series broadcast in Massachusetts called “Gender Talk” on which Nancy was host presenter.

Still active in transgender campaigns Nancy and Boston’s transgender community can be claimed as the pioneers of the Transgender Day of Remembrance. Their stand against transphobic abuse triggered by the deaths of Chanelle Pickett and Rita Hester inspired activists in San Francisco to create the first Transgender Day of Remembrance in 1999 which is still observed every year on the anniversary of Chanelle’s death on 20th November 1995.

The city of Boston has earned another place in lgbt world heritage by lending its name to the “Boston marriage”. This was a term used specifically to describe a relationship between 2 women. In the 19th century a lot of privileged women living in the north-eastern USA formed romantic partnerships that were very much like marriages. Because Boston was a major centre of these relationships they became known as Boston marriages.

It is highly appropriate that Boston has this connection with same-sex relationships because the state of Massachusetts played a significant part in the fight to legalise same-sex marriages in the USA. Massachusetts was the first state to legalise same-sex marriage in May 2004. There are several couples I could nominate for the next 2 of my 80 Gays – Marcia Hayes and Susan Shepherd (the first couple to obtain a licence to marry), or Tanya McClosky and Marcia Kadish (the first couple to actually marry). Instead I’ll choose the Boston couple who were the lead plaintiffs in the pioneering court case which led to the legalisation of same-sex marriage. This couple are 19) Hillary Goodridge (b.1956) and 20) Julie Goodridge (b.1958). The story of their campaign to be married will be told next time.

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