Read this article I wrote in December 1998, and reflect on the loss to the LGBT community each time someone like Rita Hester is murdered. (Edited for relevancy.)
The atmosphere [here] on the night of December 1st, 1998, was filled with tension, fear, and only the most anxious of laughter. Just three days earlier, some of us had learned that one of our compatriots, Rita Hester, had been brutally stabbed to death in her apartment. Informing our sisters and brothers was not the easiest of duties, but one for which we felt much compulsion — not only for the increased alertness required by all, but in sheer shock at Rita’s portrayal by the local and national media.
For those of you who haven’t heard the full story, or have only managed to gather what morbid morsels the rest of the press has doled out, here’s an account combined from various eyewitness and friends’ accounts. Rita Hester was an out, transgendered woman who had lived as a full-time woman for over 10 years in the Allston/Brighton community (just west of Boston proper). Comfortable with both herself and the way she was received by all segments of the local communities, Rita was a well-loved patron of both transgender-friendly clubs such as Jacques and straight bars such as Allston’s Model Café and The Silhouette. She had just returned from performing abroad, a career path which she thoroughly enjoyed. While the press has chosen to focus on Rita’s transgendered nature, her friends have instead highlighted her vivaciousness. Jessica Piper remembered her particularly well:
Everywhere Rita went, people experienced her as an incredibly vivacious, outgoing woman. The Globe’s quote about her “double life” only makes sense metaphorically: in Boston, she hung out in two different cultures, on opposite sides of town, and she was one of the only links between the two. The other queens wouldn’t go out to Allston from fear. And the straight Allston kids didn’t want to go to downtown queen bars.
Rita was also known as a “large woman who could take care of herself,” a fact which makes her murder only more puzzling. On Saturday, November 28th, at about 6:20 PM, a neighbor reported to police a disturbance at Rita’s residence. Upon arrival, they found her in cardiac arrest, having been stabbed multiple times. She was rushed to Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, only to be declared dead after her arrival. Eyewitness reports variously claim that she went home with one or two people after meeting them at Jacques on the prior Tuesday, behavior that struck them as not typical of her style. Rumors abounded in the lay press, at various times suggesting the potential involvement of everything from blackmail (hardly likely, given how out she was to friends, family and community) to Rohypnol (“Roofies,” or “the date-rape drug”), but nothing has been substantiated at this point. The only suggestion that seems plausible is that she was murdered by people that she knew; since she was a “6’2″, 6’3″, 225, maybe 230 [pound woman],” it seems unlikely that she could have been murdered by someone breaking into her home.
But all of the conjecture aside, what enrages me is her blatant misrepresentation by the press as he, male, and “Rita,” as if this name was an improper appellation. A transgendered individual who has had breast implants, who has lived in a community for 10 years as a woman, and who is known even by “straight” acquaintances as Rita, is not “Rita.” She is a woman, and whether or not you agree with her chosen lifestyle in any aspect, you owe her the respect to treat her as she wished to be treated. Yet the Boston Globe, an otherwise respectable publication, referred to her repeatedly as male while quoting friends who correctly used female pronouns and her correct first name. Even Boston’s gay/bi/lesbian newspaper, Bay Windows, repeatedly used male pronouns and Rita’s obscure given first male name throughout their article. But to everyone who knew Rita, this was the first they had heard her referred to in this way.
All of the wild allegations and improper references to Rita have made many more aware of a similar murder committed just a few months ago, that of Monique Thomas. On or about September 11th, 35-year-old Monique was robbed, tied up, and stabbed to death in her apartment. She was discovered a week later. George Stallings, a 25-year-old man, has been charged with first degree murder in Monique’s death. He was arraigned on November 24th, with motions to be heard on December 15th. This time, the Suffolk City District Attorney’s office say they have “a lot of evidence,” which perhaps will be enough to finally appropriately commit one of these bigoted individuals for an appropriate sentencing.
Massachusetts, like other states in the Union, often bases its law on the principle of “common law,” the concept that if everyone agrees a certain thing is just so, then legally it is just so as well. It appears that our state’s most venerable institutions have forgotten their roots. This giant step backwards for the Massachusetts (and national!) transgender community has grave implications for all of you who read this publication. Imagine losing the ability to use the correct bathroom or fitting room for your external gender identification in such cities as Pittsburgh and Cambridge, which have recently passed transgender protection laws. Worse yet, think back to the days when crossdressers were arrested for “lewd and lascivious behavior” for simply filling their gas tank at the local Mobil.
As has been said for many years, we cannot let these actions go unpunished and unchallenged. To sit back and pray that our beloved Justice System will see things righted only failed with Chanelle Pickett, whose murderer was only convicted of assault and battery. All of us, closeted or no, lesbian, bisexual, gay, transgendered, BDSM or straight as an arrow, must raise awareness of these wrongs to anyone and everyone who will listen. It is definitely time that the insensitive reporting, the public discrimination, the proliferation of incorrect age-old stereotypes, and especially the savage murders come to an end. Your action can help all of us retain our rights to privacy, freedom, and life.