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Austin panel looks at violence against LGBTQ youth
by Kate Sosin, Windy City Times

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Responding to the murders of two transgender women in Chicago's Austin neighborhood this year, officials and LGBTQ youth came together Dec. 11 for a panel discussion about safety in the neighborhood.

Kenith Bergeron, senior conciliation specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice Community Relations Service in Chicago, moderated the panel.

The discussion, held at Taskforce Prevention and Community Services, featured officials from the Cook County State's Attorney's office, the Chicago Police Department, 29th Ward Alderman Deborah Graham's office, Center on Halsted, Taskforce, the Chicago Commission on Human Relations and new organization U.S. Transgender Advocacy.

The panel comes after a similar event hosted at the Center on Halsted in Lakeview. Bergeron said that Brian Turner, who works at Taskforce, urged him to hold the panel in Austin, after two transgender women were murdered this year. The murders of Paige Clay and Tiffany Gooden remain unsolved.

Among those at the panel discussion was the mother of Gooden. Several LGBTQ young people also attended the discussion.

Officials walked through the basics of what a hate crime is and how it can be reported, but youth in the room sometimes appeared at odds with adult presenters.

Mona Noriega, director of the Chicago Commission on Human Relations, encouraged those in the room to report discrimination to police and other officials.

"If we cannot talk about what the issue is…then the city cannot address it as a problem, as a policy issue," she said.

But youth countered that police often ignore their concerns, blaming the youth reporting a crime for staying out too late or questioning if the youth was involved in illegal activity that placed them in harm's way.

"I always felt like the police has never been there to help me," said one young person. "I feel like the police cannot help me. They can't."

Many claimed that police turn their suspicion on LGBTQ youth, rather than tracking down an alleged perpetrator.

Police Officer Maudessie Jointer acknowledged that perception but said youth should still report hate violence to police immediately.

"I wouldn't suggest you jump over point A, even if point A is tough," Jointer told young people. Jointer also encouraged young people to report officers who act unprofessionally.

A portion of the forum was also devoted to preventing violence against LGBTQ youth in Austin. Turner said he wants to create a system where young people who feel compelled to, check in with Taskforce on a weekly basis to report that they are okay.

While some presenters and attendees expressed positive feelings about the forum, some of the young people said they would have liked more time to share their opinions.

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