In a move that surprised some familiar with his record on LGBTQ rights, Jeff Sessions sent a high-profile hate crimes lawyer to Iowa to assist in the prosecution of a man charged with murdering a genderfluid teenager last year.
According to the New York Times, the move amounts to a political statement about “fighting violence against transgender people individually” because the DOJ only rarely assigns its attorneys to work local cases—and “only in cases in which they can provide expertise in areas that the federal government views as significant.”
Sixteen-year-old Kedarie Johnson was shot to death in Burlington, Iowa, in March 2016. According to the Des Moines Register, Johnson was a “well-liked” high school junior who did not identify specifically as transgender but who liked to wear hair extensions and women’s clothes and who occasionally went by the name Kandicee. Johnson, who used the pronoun he, considered himself to be fluid both in terms of his gender and his sexuality, according to his friends and family.
Authorities are investigating Johnson’s killing as a hate crime. The man charged with first-degree murder, 23-year-old Jorge “Lumni” Sanders-Galvez, could face the death penalty if found guilty of a federal hate crime. His trial is scheduled for Oct. 24.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Sessions “personally initiated” the dispatch of a prominent federal attorney to Burlington. Sessions has spoken before about the need to prosecute hate crimes and has brought several cases himself.
He also, as U.S. attorney general, has supported the ban on transgender soldiers in the military, reversed the federal guidelines that encouraged schools to let students use bathrooms that fit their gender identities, and announced workplace discrimination protection no longer would be interpreted to include transgender and gay people—generally narrowing the view of sex-based civil rights protections to mean only biological sex.