7 Local Groups Sign Letter Condemning Assault on Transgender Woman

Gay Pride Parade marches through St. Croix. (Submitted photo)
Gay Pride Parade marches through St. Croix. (Submitted photo)

Seven local organizations signed and released a letter publicly condemning the act of violence in which four St. Croix women were arrested and charged with attacking a transgender woman on St. Croix, then were released by V.I. Superior Court Judge Jomo Meade via telephone, according to court records.

The incident took place near the Walter I.M. Hodge housing community. All four women were released on their own recognizance without posting bail, the terms of which would require all women to return to court once summoned.

One LUV, Inc., STX Pride, Inc., the Women’s Coalition of St. Croix, Virgin Islands Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Council, the AARP of the Virgin Islands, Frederiksted Health Care Inc., and the Men’s Coalition of St. Croix all signed the letter to “strongly condemn violence against transgender women and girls” in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Responding to media inquiries, V.I. Police Public Information Officer Glen Dratte said the release of all four women “baffled” some employees at the VIPD, who viewed the incident as a clear hate crime. A hate crime perpetrated against a transgender woman being targeted because of her gender identity and sexual preference.

It’s not unusual for law enforcement to disagree with court proceedings. Dratte’s response to inquiries from the media make it known that the VIPD intervened because of the violence that was inflicted on the victim and the perpetrators’ words used to taunt the victim because of her gender identity and speculation about her sexual orientation.

“When advocating and celebrating Pride in the Virgin Islands this is exactly the types of situations we are trying to avoid for Virgin Islanders. As a community, we need to speak up to keep each other safe,” said Brigitte Berry, a community activist and an organizer working with STT Pride.

After a verbal altercation began between the victim and one of the women arrested by the VIPD, a shoe was thrown at the victim, which missed. The woman then left and returned with three more women. The police report noted that the returning women wielded a glass bottle and a wooden object. The victim, armed with a wrench, was hit over the head with the glass bottle, after which she was brutally assaulted by the four women.

The women admitted to the VIPD that they did in fact use a glass bottle and wooden object as a weapon against the victim. The victim sustained cuts to the head, neck and left hand and suffered from two contusions to the head.

After the enrollment of a transgender student in the public school system in 2017, former V.I. Attorney General Claude Walker in a letter determined that the V.I. Civil Rights Act protects residents and visitors from sexual discrimination, with the law extending to transgender students in Virgin Islands schools.

Former Education Commissioner Sharon McCollum first wrote Walker for guidance to determine whether transgender individuals in V.I. public schools had legal protections allowing them to use public restrooms and other accommodations based on their gender identity – not to be confused with their biological sex.

“Virgin Islands law protects the rights of transgender individuals,” Walker said. Federal statutes also outline protections for transgender men and women that extend to all U.S. jurisdictions. The military’s ban on transgender men and women blurs the line for some jurisdictions who are weighing what equal rights for the group would mean for their locality.

“We urge the Virgin Islands Police Department, the Superior Court of the Virgin Islands, and the Virgin Islands Department of Justice to pursue justice with this case to the best of their ability,” the joint letter reads. “LGBTQ Virgin Islanders deserve to know that the legal protections they do have are [being] enforced.”

The victim, who is a transgender woman based on her gender identity, was identified as a male by the VIPD. The assault was also captured on video.

Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared in the State of the Territory News.