Texas Is at the Epicenter of an ‘Epidemic of Violence’ Against LGBTQ People

Texas led the United States in hate-related violence against LGBTQ people, which jumped by 86 percent from 2016 to 2017. “This data makes clear that our elected officials can no longer ignore that their anti-transgender rhetoric is putting lives at risk."

Gwynevere River Song. Courtesy of Marcy Sutton

Gwynevere River Song grew up feeling like an outsider in their hometown of Waxahachie, a small town of about 30,000 in north Texas.

Song’s mother, Marcy Sutton, told Rewire that they came out to her as transgender nearly three years ago. While it was unexpected, she supported her child, whom she calls Gwyn.

Sutton often choked back tears or paused to regain her composure when speaking about Gwyn, who was 26 when they were killed last August. Gwyn, who according to social media used “them” pronouns, was one of seven LGBTQ people murdered last year in Texas—which had more anti-LGBTQ homicides than any other state.

Fifty-two LGBTQ people in the United States were killed in 2017 as a result of hate-related violence, according to a new report by the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP). That’s the highest number recorded in the 20 years that NCAVP has tracked this information, representing an 86 percent increase from 2016. 

Twenty-seven of the 52 victims were transgender. In Texas, four of the seven victims were transgender. 

Beverly Tillery, executive director of the New York City Anti-Violence Project, said the report is a “wake up call,” adding that LGBTQ people live in an “increasingly hostile and dangerous climate” amid the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and policies changes on the federal, state, and local levels.

“I urge everyone to read the stories and look at the photos of the 52 individuals lost to hate violence in 2017—they are our friends, family, coworkers, and fellow LGBTQ community members,” Tillery said in a statement.

‘You’re Not Seen as a Person Here’

Despite Gwyn’s efforts at “trying to be normal,” Sutton said they were often bullied in their teenage years.

“[They were] afraid,” Sutton said. “[They] didn’t like to be around a lot of people, and [they] didn’t like to associate with people because it was so difficult to make friends.”

Sutton described her child as incredibly intelligent, someone who enjoyed a variety of creative interests, including writing and playing the guitar. Gwyn was passionate about politics, and about the transgender community.

“[They were] so concerned with people and what was going on in the world,” Sutton said.

It was not until they went to college at the University of Texas in Austin that they were able to find an accepting and affirming community. While in college, they started to present publicly as a woman and began hormone replacement therapy.

After graduating in June 2015 with a bachelors in radiation physics, Gwyn moved to California, where they were able to change the name on their driver’s license. But they had a difficult time finding employment and moved back home to Waxahachie in January 2017.

During the subsequent months, they felt isolated and struggled with depression.

Sutton said Gwyn’s life had “been hell” after moving back to Texas. Continued difficulty finding employment, frustrations with legal documentation, and life in a prototypical small Texas town took a toll.

“You’re not seen as a person here,” Sutton said. “You’re made to feel like something that should not be out in public.”

‘He Baited [Them] at [Their] Weakest Moment’

On August 12, Gwyn visited the home of their estranged father, Robert Mosher. An altercation reportedly escalated and became violent.

Deputies from the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office were dispatched at 5:27 p.m. in response to a reported shooting, and after arriving on the scene, the officers found Mosher injured and Gwyn fatally shot, reported the Waxahachie Daily Light.  

According the death certificate, provided to Rewire by Sutton, Gwyn was shot in both body and head. The time of death is listed as 11:25 p.m.

An investigation of the incident is being conducted by the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division. Sergeant Joe Fitzgerald, media relations officer for the sheriff’s office, told Rewire there are “no updates” in the case.

The exact circumstances of Gwyn’s death remain unclear, and the reason Gwyn went to their father’s home remains unknown. But Sutton believes that Mosher was not acting out of self-defense. She claims he deliberately provoked Gwyn with the intention of fatally shooting them.

“I honestly think that he baited [them] at [their] weakest moment,” Sutton said.

‘We’re Living in a Toxic Environment’

The victims of the anti-LGBTQ homicides recorded by NCAVP in 2017 were overwhelmingly transgender women and disproportionately people of color. Twenty-two of the 27 hate-related homicides of transgender and gender non-conforming people were of transgender women of color.

Chuck Smith, CEO of Equality Texas, told Rewire that the United States is experiencing an “epidemic of violence” targeting LGBTQ people.

“We’re living in a toxic environment,” Smith said. “We’re living at a time when the climate for homophobic and transphobic and violent oriented speech directed at the LGBTQ community is increasing.”

During the seven months when Texas lawmakers were in Austin, LGBTQ people were the “targets of discriminatory legislation on a daily basis,” Smith said. In 2017, Texas lawmakers debated so-called bathroom bills, Republican-supported proposals to restrict access to public accommodations for transgender people.

Texas lawmakers listened to hundreds testify during legislative committee hearings on bills targeting transgender people. The vast majority of those speaking were against the bills. After months of of public debate, the Republican-controlled legislature was unable to pass any of the bills.

“The coverage of [the legislation] certainly has an impact on the perceived safety of members of our community,” Smith said. “Based on this report it has an impact on their actual safety.”

The Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, reported a spike in people reaching out for assistance during the Texas legislative sessions.

The number of LGBTQ youth in Texas reaching out for help increased by 34 percent in June and by 17 percent in July.

“This data makes clear that our elected officials can no longer ignore that their anti-transgender rhetoric is putting lives at risk,” Amit Paley, CEO and executive director of the Trevor Project, said in an August statement. “Anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and legislation directly leads to crisis among our community’s young people.”

Smith said the rhetoric “influences and emboldens” those who may consider committing acts of violence against LGBTQ people.