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Five Years Later Local Transgender Hate Crime Still Unsolved

Monday, August 28, 2006
Despite extensive work on the part of detectives, Washington County’s only known hate crime remains as much a mystery today as it did five years ago when Loni Kai, a transgender woman, was murdered. Loni Kai, who was born Lorenzo Igisaiar Okaruru, was beaten to death and her body dumped in a field early on the morning of August 21, 2001. Although Oregon is one of 24 states that include sexual orientation in hate crimes legislation, Oregon law does not address violence based on gender identity. This would have changed had Senate Bill 1000 passed, but because of the Minnis-led effort against SB1000, crimes like the one committed against Loni Kai are not technically classified as hate crimes and remain invisible as bias-based violence. No one knows in Oregon how many violent crimes are committed because of anti-trans hate.

And Oregon isn't alone. In part because so few states include gender identity in hate crimes legislation, it is difficult to find accurate statistics on bias-based crimes against transgender people. The FBI does not even include such acts of violence in published hate crimes statistics. We do know, however, that hate crimes have increased in recent years and the bias against sexual-orientation is the motivating factor in nearly 16% of hate crimes.

Today, we remember Loni and hope for justice in this crime. To read more about Loni's story and the investigation, check out the coverage from today's Oregonian:

Washington County's only known hate killing unsolved 5 years later
Detectives and rights activists hope for a break in Lorenzo Igisaiar Okaruru's death

Monday, August 28, 2006
The Oregonian

HILLSBORO -- Five years after the savage killing of Lorenzo Igisaiar Okaruru, detectives remain saddened -- and stumped -- by Washington County's only known bias killing.

Okaruru, who was born male but lived as a woman under the name Loni Kai, was beaten on the head with a metal instrument and dumped in a field off Southwest Farmington and Rood Bridge roads early the morning of Aug. 26, 2001.

"We'd work around the clock to solve something this sad and this serious if we had the information available to us," said Roger Mussler, one of the original sheriff's detectives on the case.

Mussler retired in 2003 but was rehired a short time later to help investigate a promising tip from a prison inmate who wanted to trade information for a shorter sentence. Mussler and sheriff's Detective Murray Rau, a member of the county's Major Crimes Team, worked on the lead for several months.

They tracked down dozens of people and eventually found a car they thought may have been used to dump Okaruru's body. Forensics experts tore the car apart; Rau said they had to replace the seats, headliner and carpeting for the new owner.

"There would have been a lot of blood," said Detective Sgt. Mike O'Connell, another original investigator on the case.

But no trace evidence was found. The tip turned out to be bogus, Rau said.
O'Connell said the sheriff's office is so eager to solve the case that he'd bring Mussler out of retirement "tomorrow if we got another good tip."
The sheriff's office and rights groups are offering a reward of $4,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction.

"Any crime of violence is important to remember," said Rachael Parker, a Forest Grove resident who is on the board of directors for Out and Equal, a national workplace advocacy group.

"Bringing closure to (Okaruru's murder) would be a wonderful thing for everybody," she said.

Parker, 37, said she was inspired to speak out on transgender issues when Okaruru was killed. "I knew that hate crimes against transgendered people happened, but until then, it was something that happened in New York," Parker said. "It became very real to me that it could have been me walking down the street."

O'Connell said Okaruru, 28, may have been killed by someone who thought he was picking up a woman and became enraged to find otherwise. Okaruru had reported being assaulted under similar circumstances less than a year before, O'Connell said.
At the time, detectives said Okaruru was beaten because he lived as a woman, making the killing the first homicide to be classified as a hate crime in Washington County.

Detectives said Okaruru, who was unemployed and lived with family in Aloha, was seen early that Sunday at the Golden Fountain lounge on Southwest Canyon Road and walking along Southwest Tualatin Valley Highway near Murray Road.

A neighbor found Okaruru's body in an overgrown field about four miles south of Hillsboro shortly before 8 a.m.

O'Connell says he thinks the killer called someone to help him dispose of the body after beating Okaruru elsewhere.

"Two people know about it, the killer and the person with him," O'Connell said. "And the odds are, based on human dynamics, other people know about it, too."
The more people who know about a crime, the more likely someone will come forward, O'Connell said. "Sometimes it takes somebody getting in trouble, getting jammed up," he said.

And sometimes all it takes to break an old case is jogging someone's memory, O'Connell said.

"We never give up hope that these are going to be solved," Rau said. "We never forget about them."

We've knocked on 26,000 doors, in 9 weeks, across 4 counties

Thursday, August 24, 2006
That's right. Over 26,000 doors in 9 weeks across 4 counties--educating voters on GLBT equality. It is pretty amazing when you think about it. Our canvass team is rockin'. The conversations with voters are happening and we are putting a real face to the GLBT community.

Mike Grigsby, BRO's Summer Canvass Director brings us this from the road:
I'd just had several tough doors in a row, one woman who kept telling me marriage was a sacrament (even though I wasn't talking with her about marriage). I'd had the discouraging experience of having a voter tell me that she only votes for ballot measures, not candidates, and even though I left her with information about a progressive, pro-gay candidate, I felt that we would be lucky if she voted, period--a fact made especially tragic by the fact that she was 110% with us on the issue of ending discrimination. Then there was a string of doors where no one came to answer the door when I rang the doorbell, even though the front door was open, I clearly heard the bell, and there were clear sounds of folks moving around in the house. I was at breaking point; I was tired and hungry, my feet hurt, I'd just drank my last drink of water, and I had 45 minutes to go before the end of shift. I looked at my walk sheet to ascertain the name of the voter I'd be asking for at the next apartment, took a deep breath and knocked on the door. It's crazy, but I'm still nervous at each door. I think it's a good thing, keeps the adrenalin pumping and keeps me fresh and excited.

The voter answered the door and I said "Hello, my name is Mike, could I speak to Jane Doe please?" She took one look at my BRO sticker and said "Sweetie, whatever you need, let me have that clipboard, I want to marry my girlfriend but I can't, so I will do anything to help you out tonight. Do you want me to refill your water?"

We exchanged a meaningful look, and this angel on earth realized by looking into my soul how tough the road had been for the last hour or so and after signing a postcard to the legislature, opened her arms and said "You look like you need a hug." Well, I've never been one to turn down hugs; if we hugged more and hated less, what a great world it would be.

Between this "battery recharge" and the thought that there were eight other BRO canvassers working as diligently and passionately in Salem that day, I managed to continue on, talking to several more voters and obtaining several more postcards (which ask the Oregon legislature to pass a statewide ban on discrimination in public accommodation, employment, and housing). I walked back to the minivan, ready to go pick up my staff and drive back to Portland to debrief and end our day.

Sometimes I wonder why I canvass; it's exhausting, and we could possibly reach more folks by mail or tv ads; but then I realize that face-to-face human communication is the most effective means of communicating, and I think back to all the experiences over the years when I've seen light bulbs light up for folks. That's why I do the work I do; if I can inform one voter about the anti-gay voting record of a legislator, or persuade one person to stand up and volunteer, or have one of my staff tell me that she wants to devote her life to progressive politics, my job is done at the end of the day. After all, we can only start one person at a time, one door at a time, to take back our nation and continue the resistance to the "neo-con revolution."

And that's why I'll get out of bed in the morning, put on my shoes, walk for miles and work for long, long hours: It is what I *must* do.

It is the fight we must all continue to fight.

Written by Mike Grigsby, BRO Summer Canvass Director

Viewpoint: Hillsboro Does Right

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The atmosphere at the Hillsboro Civil Rights Ordinance Hearing Tuesday night was overwhelmingly energetic and inspiring, and makes me grateful to work for Basic Rights Oregon. It's almost too much to write in a short blog entry. The show of support and solidarity was reflected in the shining and triumphant faces, all wearing bright neon stickers reading: "YES! I support the CIVIL RIGHTS Ordinance!"

All together, the months of effort by the Washington County Basic Rights Action (WaCo BRAT) team and the BRO staff really paid off in the sheer number of people who came out to support the ordinance. Our final count was over 90 people in support and NOT ONE in opposition. The room was absolutely packed. Each and every testimony given by Hillsboro and Washington County residents was so moving and poignant that by the end I was almost in tears.

This victory was a year in the making and began before I joined the BRO staff in June. The WaCo BRAT put in countless hours of volunteer time--phone banking, canvassing, meeting with city officials, members of the faith community, business leaders, neighbors, friends, co-workers, writing letters, and more.

There is only one thing I'd do differently. I'd want every member of the WaCo BRAT to share their stories as testimony in support of the Civil Rights Ordinance because each person's work and experience is so valuable.

Hillsboro is the most recent example of our promise to pass anti-discrimination ordinances across the state. We are going to go city-by-city, county-by-county, until the Legislature gets its act together and passes and omnibus statewide anti-discrimination policy.

Written by Hannah Nguyen, BRO Field Organizer (E. Multnomah & Washington County)

Hillsboro Unanimously Votes To Ban Discrimination

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Earlier this year we told you that we would go city-by-city and county-by-county to pass anti-discrimination legislation until either the whole state is protected or the Oregon Legislature finally does its job and passes a statewide anti-discrimination law.

Now, after months of hard work by the grassroots activists of the Washington County Basic Rights Action Team, we have made another giant step forward in that fight.

The City of Hillsboro Tuesday evening nanimously approved a city-wide ban on discrimination in housing, employment, public accommodation on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity after hearing public testimony from faith leaders, business owners and the GLBT community in support of the legislation. The preliminary vote followed months of work by the Washington County Basic Rights Action Team to lobby the Hillsboro city council and build community support for the new law. Final approval is expected in the next two weeks.

In enacting this law, the City of Hillsboro has joined two Oregon counties and eight cities that have enacted similar laws: Multnomah County, Benton County, Salem, Portland, Beaverton, Bend, Ashland, Lake Oswego, Eugene and Lincoln City.

In a statement released to media after the vote, Basic Rights Oregon Interim Executive Director Frank Dixon said, ''With this vote Hillsboro has affirmed that our communities are strengthened when each of our citizens are treated fairly under the law no matter where they work, live or travel."

Basic Rights Oregon is particularly grateful for the tremendous leadership of Mayor Tom Hughes and City Councilor Ed Dennis whose commitment to equality made this vote possible.

Credit is also due to the tireless work Washington County Basic Rights Action Team activists Mark, Heather, Monte, Michael, Jim, Daniel, Roger, Leslea, Teri, Wayne, Tom, Jeff, Laura, Adam, David, Ben, Carmen, Marylynn, Patty, Sue, Asher, Lesley, Robin, Diane, Justin and Josh whose initiative, committment and passion prove that change can happen at every level when people come together.

Thank you Hillsboro and Congratulations to the Washington County Basic Rights Action Team!

Tonight's victory is a step in the right direction for Oregon, but our fight is far from over, as Frank Dixon reminded reporters after the vote: ''While tonight's vote is a win for equality, we still have work to do,'' he said. ''In most of the state a person can be fired from a job, denied a home or turned away from a table in a restaurant simply because they are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. Most Oregonians already believe that this kind of discrimination is wrong and it's time for the State Legislature to make it against the law. Freedom from discrimination should not depend on one's zip code.''

Want to get involved in your community's Basic Rights Action Team and make change happen where you live? Email Thomas@basicrights.org or call 503-222-6151

Hillsboro to Consider City-Wide Ban on Discrimination Against GLBT Citizens

The City of Hillsboro will hear testimony this evening on whether to enact a city-wide ban on discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Hillsboro activists affiliated with Basic Rights Oregon have been lobbying the city council and organizing local support for the law since January 2006.

Members of the Hillsboro Basic Rights Action Team -- a group of citizen activists affiliated with Basic Rights Oregon, as well as members of the Hillsboro business, faith and GLBT communities have worked very hard at getting this tonight's hearing.

We will update our blog and site if and when there is any important news from the hearing tonight.

Why is this important?
People all across Oregon continue to experience pervasive discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in housing, employment, health care, education, and everyday life. Often those who experience discrimination are reluctant to come forward because without laws to protect or enforce their basic rights, they are vulnerable to retaliation, harassment and violence which can create emotional hardships and interfere with their ability to adequately provide for themselves and their families.

Right now Oregon's law books don't prohibit evicting a good tenant, denying a patron service at a restaurant or refusing to hire a qualified candidate just because of a person's real or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity. Although a handful of municipalities and counties in Oregon have already passes this type of legislation, citizens in most of the state remain vulnerable to this type of discrimination and efforts to pass a statewide anti-discrimination bill have thus far been blocked in the Oregon Legislature.

BRO Wants You to Write For Our Blog!

Friday, August 11, 2006

We're looking for members of the community to contribute to the Basic Rights Oregon Blog. We invite diversity in thought and want the community to discuss the issues important to the fight for GLBT equality in Oregon.

We'll post a few contributions a week from guest columnists. Obviously, we won't be able to publish everything we receive. Interested in writing a guest column? Just submit your contribution to Bryan Boyd. Also use tht email address if you have any questions.

We look forward to receiving them!

-Bryan Boyd, BRO

BREAKING: Ben Westlund Drops Out of Governor's Race

Thursday, August 10, 2006
State Senator Ben Westlund announced at a news conference in Salem today that he is dropping his bid to become Oregon's next Governor.

This news makes the battle for the Governor's seat a clear two way race between a sitting Governor with a more than 30 year record of advocating for equality and a challenger who has aligned himself with the most virulent anti-GBLT forces in Oregon and who has vowed to veto any pro-equality legislation, including civil unions and anti-discrimination legislation like Senate Bill 1000 passed by the Senate in 2005.

The stakes could not be higher. This race will determine whether civil unions and anti-discrimination become the law of the land in Oregon or whether legislative progress on GLBT equality comes to a halt for the next several years. We can't let that happen.

We hope you'll join us in the fight to re-elect Governor Ted Kulongoski in November and elect a pro-equality majority in the Oregon House and the Oregon Senate.

We also look forward to Senator Westlund's continued leadership and committment to GLBT equality in his role as Senator in the 2007 legislative session.

City by City, County by County. Corvallis BRAT takes Anti-Discrimination Fight Home and Wins First Round

Thursday, August 03, 2006
Earlier this year we pledged to take our fight for anti-discrimination across Oregon city by city and county by county until the Oregon Legislature finally steps up and does its job by passing a comprehensive statewide anti-discrimination bill.

Now, Corvallis may join the ranks of cities that honor diversity in both theory and practice when citizens are given the option of revising the city charter this November to include the protection of sexual and gender minorities from discrimination in city ordinances. The proposed amendment, which has already passed in the city council thanks in part to the hard work of the Corvallis Basic Rights Action Team includes this paragraph:

''The City shall exercise its power to ensure the equal protection, treatment, and representation of all persons without discrimination including, but not limited to, age, citizenship status, color, familial status, gender identity or expression, marital status, mental disability, national origin, physical disability, race, religion, religious observance, sex, sexual orientation, and source or level of income. Corvallis is a community that honors diversity and diverse interests, and aspires to be free of prejudice, bigotry, and hate.''

Now this language goes to the voters for approval.

Although Benton County passed an ordinance adding sexual minorities to anti-discrimination laws over a decade ago, this does not always apply to the Corvallis community. This vote will be significant not only because will give the Corvallis citizens an opportunity to directly vote on the issue but also because a charter revision is much like amending a community's Constitution. It is both harder to achieve and more permanent. Revising the City Charter, which has not occurred in 30 years, involves a series of community meetings, discussions, and, finally, a vote by the public. If the revision passes, Corvallis will join Oregon communities Ashland, Beaverton, Bend, Benton County, Eugene, Lake Oswego, Portland/Multnomah County, and Salem, all of which have instituted anti-discrimination policies for both sexual and gender minorities.

According to Clinton Downs, co-chair of the Basic Rights Action Team: Corvallis, ''Corvallis has consistently voted in favor of families and rights, so it is exciting for us to ask the people to renew our commitment to diversity.'' In addition to the added protection for sexual and gender minorities in the proposed revision, race, ethnicity, and gender as also included..