Have transgender people become easy targets?

(L to R) Kellie Telesford, Destiny Lauren and Robyn Browne Kellie Telesford, Destiny Lauren and Robyn Browne were all murdered

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A man has been jailed for life for murdering a transsexual prostitute in north London. Destiny Lauren was one of a number of transgender people to suffer violence, and there are concerns such attacks are on the increase.

Because he always denied murder, it is impossible to know what motivated Leon Fyle to kill Destiny Lauren, a pre-operative transsexual born Justin Samuels.

In the witness box he claimed she performed a sex act on him, but he said she was alive and well when he left her flat.

But after strangling her and stealing her mobile phone, some cash and a ring in November 2009, Fyle got on a bus and went to a brothel in King's Cross, where he paid £250 to have sex with two women.

TRANSSEXUAL MURDER TRIALS

  • August 2008 - Shanniel Hyatt acquitted of murdering Kellie Telesford in Croydon. The case remains unsolved
  • January 2009 - James Hopkins, from Leeds, jailed for life for murdering Robyn Browne in 1997
  • June 2010 - Neil McMillan jailed for life for murdering Andrea Waddell in Brighton
  • August 2010 - Leon Fyle convicted of murdering Destiny Lauren in north London

Murders are obviously at the extreme end of the spectrum and remain very rare.

But while figures for transphobic attacks are not collated nationally, Bernard Reed of the Gender Identity Research and Education Society (Gires) said they were on the increase.

He said this was partly because of the rising number living openly as transsexual people.

Death threats

"It is estimated that around 1% of the population is 'gender variant' but only a small fraction of those have sought medical help. Sadly many trans people expect to be targeted because they are 'different'," said Mr Reed.

He said: "There is huge under-reporting of transphobic crime. We have been contacted by a girl who has suffered from repeated abuse, death threats and on one occasion being beaten up.

Andrea Waddell Andrea Waddell, who underwent hormone therapy while at university

"She said she did not see the point of reporting it to the police and said her abusers were just 'ignorant'."

Gires has now set up a website where people can report transphobic attacks, varying from name-calling to assault and rape in an effort to encourage people to come forward and report abuse.

It is impossible to speculate on Fyle's motivation for killing Destiny Lauren but Chris Gidden, a transgender campaigner, said: "Some people think they are abhorrent and want to 'clear up'."

Ms Gidden, who is herself a post-operative transsexual, said: "Some people are quite against transsexuals as a matter of principle and they are very angry. That often comes back to their own sexual insecurity."

Ms Gidden said that when she began getting harassed, she nipped it in the bud.

Start Quote

Our lives and medical history seem to be considered public property by all and sundry”

End Quote Sarah Brown Cambridge

"I had problems from several people where I live. I reported it to the police and said I was being harassed. I said, 'you can't do this to me and I will not put up with it'. It soon stopped when they realised they could end up in court," she said.

Gires says hate crime is treated seriously by most police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service considers it one of its top priorities.

The CPS, which includes transphobia with homophobic attacks, said in the four years ending in March 2009 more than 3,400 people were prosecuted for homophobic or transphobic crimes in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The CPS said convictions rose from 71% to 81% in the same period.

Transphobic attacks can be anything from verbal abuse and spitting to rape and violence. Those in the sex industry are the most vulnerable.

Two transsexuals - Destiny Lauren, in London, and Andrea Waddell, in Brighton - have been murdered in the past year, following on from the killing in 1997 of Robyn Browne.

Jurors at the trial of Andrea's killer, Neil McMillan, were asked to consider whether he murdered her after discovering she was transgender.

'Duped'
Neil McMillan arrives at court Neil McMillan may have killed Andrea Waddell after discovering she was transgender

A fourth transsexual, Kellie Telesford, who worked as a florist, was strangled at her flat in Croydon in 2007 but her killing remains unsolved. A man was acquitted of her murder last year.

Ms Gidden said: "Some problems come about because somebody advertises themselves as female. Some people go for pre-op transsexuals because they like the idea but some people don't like to be duped."

Zoe O'Connell, from Cambridge, said: "As a transwoman myself, I can say that transsexual people can be terribly vulnerable. It's not just the 'trans-panic' murders as appears to have happened with Andrea Waddell, and the constant threat of day-to-day abuse."

She said: "There are parallels with the lesbian and gay community but we are 15-20 years behind in terms of acceptance by society."

The trial of Leon Fyle heard Destiny's brother, Lyndon Samuels, had warned her of the dangers of selling her body, but she ignored him and on the night she died she asked him to wait in the street while she entertained her client.

The trial heard Destiny advertised herself in magazines such as Loot as a pre-op transsexual, who was "fully functional" and "very well endowed".

Fyle had telephoned several other pre-op transsexuals and the mobile phone calls he made to Destiny led detectives to his door.

Leon Fyle Leon Fyle had sex with two prostitutes after killing Destiny

Fyle, who denied murder and made no comment during police interviews, was sentenced to serve a minimum of 21 years behind bars.

Investigating officer Detective Inspector Liz Baker said: "The murder of Destiny Lauren was brutal and premeditated.

"Destiny lived alone in her flat in Kentish Town. She had a troubled history and had suffered depression following the death of her mother but was trying to turn her life around."

She said: "Fyle has not shown one shred of remorse for this callous act nor for the suffering he has inflicted on Destiny's family and friends."

National conference

A Metropolitan Police spokeswoman said: "We have a comprehensive hate crime policy which details dealing with transphobic hate crime and transphobic victims. We have LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) liaison officers who regularly receive training and updates around transphobia."

She added: "We have set up and work with third party reporting sites so that victims who would otherwise feel unable to approach police direct can report crime to non-police organisations and individuals."

The Met's violent crime directorate is hosting a national "trans awareness" conference in November.

While the majority of transphobic crimes are against women, some men have also been targeted.

The most notorious case of its kind was the murder in Nebraska in 1993 of Brandon Teena, who was raped and stabbed to death after it was discovered that, despite living as a boy, he was still physically a girl.

One of his killers, Marvin Nissen, was jailed for life in 2003 and his accomplice John Lotter, is on death row.

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