Attorney General Jeff Sessions holding his hand over his heart.

Photo via Ryan J. Reilly/Flickr (CC-BY)

Jeff Sessions to prosecute trans teen’s murder—but LGBTQ activists are skeptical

Sessions has advocated for LGBTQ discrimination in the past.


Ana Valens


Posted on Oct 16, 2017   Updated on May 22, 2021, 2:14 pm CDT

Keeping with an earlier promise—and surprising the LGBTQ community— Attorney General Jeff Sessions will carry out legal proceedings against people who target transgender Americans. A Justice Department civil rights attorney will prosecute a man who allegedly shot and killed a Black genderfluid teen in Burlington, Iowa during 2016.

Kedarie/Kandicee Johnson was 16 years old when they were killed on March 2, 2016. After a lengthy police investigation, 22-year-old Jorge “Lumni” Sanders-Galvez was charged with murdering Johnson in the first degree. Des Moines County Attorney Amy K. Beavers has since announced the federal government is looking into the case to see if it is a federal hate crime, as Johnson’s mother previously argued that her child’s death was based on their gender identity, according to the Advocate.

“The federal authorities are investigating the case as a federal hate crime, and so they would like to be part of the state case for seamless prosecution, should an indictment in federal court be handed down,” Beavers said, the Des Moines Register reports.

Attorney Christopher J. Perras, an expert in federal hate crimes, was “personally” sent to Iowa by Sessions himself on Friday, the New York Times reports. Justice Department lawyers are rarely dispatched to local areas to carry out criminal prosecutions except when the government believes a case is particularly important for the nation, which means Sanders-Galvez’s sentencing may impact federal policies on federal hate crimes against transgender gender-nonconforming citizens in the near future.

Sessions previously vowed to prosecute hate crimes against transgender individuals over the summer, shocking the LGBTQ community. After all, Sessions voted against protecting American citizens under gender identity hate crime legislation in the past, which means the attorney general is executing a law that he disagreed with in the Justice Department.

“We have and will continue to enforce hate crime laws aggressively and appropriately where transgendered [sic] individuals are victims,” Sessions said back in June. “I personally met with the department’s senior leadership and the civil rights division to discuss a spate of murders—a number of murders around the country of transgendered [sic] individuals.”

Activists remain skeptical, however. Sessions has repeatedly criticized the LGBTQ movement, and his Justice Department has defended employers who discriminate against their queer employees multiple times in the past. He’s even praised anti-LGBTQ groups, comparing their “religious freedom” agenda to Martin Luther King Jr.’s struggle for racial equality. Many LGBTQ activists believe Sessions’ attitude toward the community hasn’t changed at all, and that he’s just doing his job to carry out federal hate crime prosecutions.

“He has no problem with discrimination against LGBTQ people in jobs, education, and other facets of life, but will lean forward in this one case where a transgender individual has been killed,” former Obama administration civil rights division head Vanita Gupta said to the Times. “While it is, of course, good that DOJ is aggressively pursuing this case, it would behoove Sessions to connect the dots between his policies that promote discrimination and hate that can result in death.”

LGBTQ rights nonprofit Lambda Legal has since condemned Sessions, arguing Sessions feigns interest in civil rights issues to mask his disdain for them.

“For Sessions now to seek credit for helping prosecute hate crimes against transgender people is akin to him handing out gasoline and matches and then looking for a pat on the back when he prosecutes someone for committing arson,” Lambda director of strategy Sharon McGowan said on Sunday.

H/T New York Magazine

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*First Published: Oct 16, 2017, 11:56 am CDT