For Immediate Release: Dated December 10, 2010
Transphobic Politician Appointed to New Governor’s Cabinet
The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) is extremely disappointed with the announcement this week that Governor-Elect Bill Haslam is appointing Shelby County District Attorney Bill Gibbons as the new Commissioner of Safety and Homeland Security.
Mr. Gibbons has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of concern over the safety of transgender people, especially African American transgender women, in Memphis.
After the February 2006 arrest of D’Andre Blake for second degree murder in killing Tiffany Berry, a 21 year old pre-operative transsexual, Blake remained free for two and a half years on a mere $20,000 bond even after he admitted to friends that he had killed Berry because she had “touched” him. On July 28, 2008, Blake was arrested again on the charges of first degree murder and aggravated child abuse in the death of his two year old daughter, Dre-Ona Blake, over “potty training.”
In an even more highly publicized case in June 2008, Gibbons’ office refused to file criminal charges against two Memphis Police Department officers who insulted and brutally beat Duanna Johnson, an African American transgender woman on February 12, 2008. The U.S. Department of Justice eventually filed criminal charges in Federal District Court of West Tennessee against Officer Bridges McRae, but Gibbons’ Office has still refused to take any criminal action in the case on behalf of the state.
Mr. Gibbons’ indifference to the safety of transgender people in Memphis has contributed to the perception that Memphis may be the most dangerous city in the country for transgender people.
Now, he will be responsible for the safety of all transgender people across the entire state.
Unfortunately, there is no legislative confirmation process in Tennessee for Cabinet officers, so this means that Mr. Gibbons will automatically assume his new position on January 15, but we do feel that Mr. Gibbons is totally inapprorpriate for this positon given his anti-transgender record. The continued refusal of his current office to stand against anti-transgender police brutality, and the lack of action in bringing D’Andre Blake to trial for the murder of Tiffany Berry nearly five years after the initial arrest and confession, is all the more appalling as anti-trans violence continues to plague the state, as the recent beating of Akasha Adonis in Jackson illustrates so vividly.
The Tennessee Transgender Political Coalition (TTPC) will have its bill back next year before the Tennessee General Assembly to add “gender identity or expression” to the state’s own hate crimes law. It is time for the State of Tennessee to go on record and state that violence against trans people has no place in the Volunteer State.
The 107th Tennessee General Assembly convenes on Tuesday, January 11. We urge all Tennesseans to contact your state legislators immediately and tell them it is time to take a stand against anti-trans violence in Tennessee, especially now that one of the key officials responsible is indifferent to the safety of transgender people.