Each year for the past three years, LGBT advocacy groups have tallied the killings of more than 20 transgender people in the U.S., yet state or federal hate crime laws rarely are used to prosecute the cases, the Associated Press reports. Many LGBT-rights groups are questioning the effectiveness of the laws, saying they sometimes focus too tightly on individual acts without addressing underlying bias or wider violence. The issue was in the news this week as Missouri authorities investigated the killing of a transgender teen who was stabbed in the genitals and had her eyes gouged out.
Investigators insist that Ally Lee Steinfeld’s death was not the result of anti-transgender hate. “You don’t kill someone if you don’t have hate in your heart,” said Texas County, Mo., Sheriff James Sigman. “But no, it’s not a hate crime.” Even if the case fell under Missouri’s hate crime law, it probably would not result in a heavier penalty, because first-degree murder is already punishable by execution or life imprisonment. Missouri is one of 17 states with hate crime laws that cover offenses targeting people on the basis of their gender identity. Steph Perkins of the Missouri LGBT-rights group PROMO and Jason Lamb of the Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys said they could not recall any crimes against transgender people that were prosecuted as hate crimes in the state. On Wednesday, PROMO and the Anti-Defamation League jointly urged prosecutors to examine the possibility that Steinfeld’s murder was a hate crime.