Seattle transgender community reeling from violent hate crime outside Orlando fundraiser

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Illustration by Max Fleishman

The attacker said 'Happy Pride' just before the beating.

Warning: This story contains images and descriptions of graphic violence that may be disturbing to readers.

Seattle resident Michael Volz was leaving a fundraiser for the LGBT victims of the Orlando massacre on Wednesday night when a nightmare scenario unfolded.

According to a GoFundMe page for Volz, who identifies as transgender and uses "they" pronouns, was walking to their car in the historically LGBT Capitol Hill neighborhood. Just outside of the Wild Rose lesbian bar, a strange man approached and said "Happy Pride" and then proceeded to attack—repeatedly punching and choking Volz while spewing hate slurs.

Volz lost consciousness and woke up covered in blood and bruises. They were taken to the hospital by friends, and there, they received stitches. Photographs were taken that documented the lacerations, bruises, and marks from the choking.

According to the fundraiser page—which has raised more than $20,000 in its first 16 hours—the attacker was a "white man in an orange sweatshirt with scruffy brown hair."
"The man—who was a stranger—said "Hey, happy Pride" and then physically attacked. Michael was choked, punched repeatedly in the face, and kneed in the abdomen. As the man was punching and choking, he said, "Show me your tits you tranny cunt." When he finished the assault he immediately left the scene."

The Seattle Police Department and the FBI confirmed to local newspapers that they are investigating the incident as a hate crime.

Danni Askini, a friend of Volz's and the executive director at the Seattle Gender Justice Project, told the Daily Dot that Wednesday's attack was not the first for either of them. Askini said that both were attacked in separate violent incidents in 2012—Volz was jumped in a parking garage near their workplace.

"It has become routine for trans people to face this kind of violence," Askini said, citing four hate crimes against transgender community members last summer alone. Included in those was an attack in which Askini described a woman's "skull smashed in," causing permanent damage that has left the victim struggling.

"This comes after three years of increasing anti-LGBT crimes in Capitol Hill, but we've seen little action from the city and state in terms of actually combating the violence," said Askini. "The police response has been putting up stickers that say 'safe place,' which is not doing anything."

Askini also expressed frustration with the outcome of a 2015 Hate Crimes Task Force assembled by Mayor Ed Murray. While Askini served on the 30-person task force made up of LGBT community leaders who compiled a report and recommendations, she said that the community has still not been told whether any of the recommended steps will be implemented.

In the meantime, Seattle has the third highest rate of anti-LGBT violence in the nation. The rising tide of hate crimes takes place in the context of a state that, like many across the country, has rapidly put forth several pieces of legislation that would prevent transgender people from using public restrooms as well as curbing their human rights in various ways.

"We have fought six anti-trans bathroom bills here," said Askini, adding that the Gender Justice League is currently battling Initiative 1515, also known as the Just Want Privacy bill. "These hate crimes are happening in the context of legislative attempts to prevent trans people from existing in public with these hateful legislation."

"I feel like that's part of why people feel empowered to show up in Capitol Hill and beat the shit out of the first trans person they see," Askini said.

Askini is so determined to fight anti-transgender legislation that she decided to run for a seat in the Washington House of Representatives, representing the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

On Friday evening, the Gender Justice League will hold a press conference to discuss the attack on Volz, in response to a swarm of initial media inquiries. But the irony of having to hold a press conference about an anti-trans hate crime was severe.

Friday is also the night of the Trans Pride march in Seattle. As Askini spoke on the phone with the Daily Dot, she was briskly walking toward the area where the march would take place in just a couple of hours.

"It's supposed to be a day of celebration," Askini said with a bitter laugh.

Michael Volz probably won't be there. Volz is at home, recovering from the attack. Askini said that money brought in by the online fundraiser will go toward covering Volz's medical costs (they have no insurance) and missed days off work. Anything raised over the $25,000 goal will go to the Gender Justice League and the NW Network of BTLG survivors of abuse.

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