Guest Column: Statement on Sentencing in Steele-Knudslien Murder
As the region's longest-serving LGBTQ organization, Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition has closely followed the case of the murder of Christa Steele-Knudslien, the North Adams resident and founder of the Miss Trans New England Pageant.
Today [Thursday], her murderer has been sentenced to life in prison with eligibility for parole after serving 25 years. In the two years since we lost Christa, the community has rallied around her memory and inspiration. In North Adams, a grassroots task force was founded in reaction to her death and those of other residents killed by their partners. This led to the Berkshire County Domestic and Sexual Violence Task Force, a coalition of community agencies such as Elizabeth Freeman Center, law enforcement, and the court system, currently working to end domestic violence in Berkshire County for good.
On the brighter side, over the past two years the Berkshire Pride Festival has grown to be a major event, celebrating and uplifting the trans community that Christa cared about so much. An annual award for local LGBTQ leaders has been established in her name and with her spirit. Clothing swaps have happened where Berkshire residents shared the joy and beauty of being trans, the same goal Christa had in mind when founding her pageant. Rainbow Seniors and the Berkshire Trans Group expanded their meetings, providing support and connection from Williamstown to Great Barrington.
Politically, a local contingent spent hours organizing and fighting to pass the state ballot measure last year that made Massachusetts the first state to successfully defend an attack on a trans rights bill, setting a strong precedent for human rights across the nation. And we mourned, as a community, at each Trans Day of Remembrance, a national event that struck home when we read Christa's name amongst those murdered.
Christa's life made our county, commonwealth, and country more beautiful, and her death has inspired us to make them safer for the most vulnerable amongst us.
Berkshire Stonewall urges our community leaders to continue this forward march toward a county where the well-being and safety of all LGBTQ indviduals, and trans women in particular, are valued and protected. We still have a long way to go, and despite our progress we are enraged by the reality that Christa's murder is part of an unjust pattern – that trans women are killed at rates far exceeding those of the larger population, and that up to 50 percent of trans women experience domestic violence in their lifetimes.
The message is so often that transgender lives are less valuable, and deserve less justice. That message is disturbing, painful, and unjust, and has real consequences to the lives of those in our community. This message starts to change when justice is served. But nothing can replace what was lost to our community when Christa was killed.
We at Berkshire Stonewall will, in the spirit of our namesake and in Christa's memory, continue fighting for our mission – the well-being of all gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people in Berkshire County.
Submitted by Ashley Shade, a member of the board of directors of Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition, on the coalition's behalf.
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