Cathy Renna, managing partner at Renna Communications and former organizer and spokesperson for GLAAD, is featured in the film Two Spirits (premiering on Tuesday, June 14 on PBS; check local listings). She wrote this blog post for us.
It is hard to believe that a decade has passed since the brutal murder of Fred Martinez. It sounds cliché but it still feels like yesterday that I got off the plane to Cortez after being invited by local activists to help deal with the aftermath of his death on this small town in the Four Corners region of Colorado. This film could not be airing at a better time.
As I say in Two Spirits, airing on PBS’s Independent Lens next week, all I could think to myself as the plane landed was “why do I keep going to such beautiful places for such awful reasons?” What I inevitably think is also “Why do such terrible things happen to good and beautiful people?”
This June 16th, 2011 will mark 10 years since his brutal murder at the hands of someone who targeted him simply for being different. For being himself. For being honest and true to his spirit. Attacked seems like an inadequate word. He was bludgeoned to death with a rock, fighting for his life, trying to climb a rock wall over which he could see the trailer park he called home.
One of the first things I did in Cortez was view the murder site. There was the outline in the shape of a body, made by the blood that had pooled as Fred lay there dying for who knows how long. I climbed the rock wall myself and saw what Fred saw just before he was pulled down and beaten to death. Unimaginable to think the last think he saw was his home. With local activists and others who had come from around the country to help, seeing the spot where he was killed was a gut-wrenching sight, even for those of us with experience dealing with the horror of a hallmark of hate crimes called “overkill.”
Soon after, we met with Paula Mitchell, Fred’s mother, who was reeling from the death of her son and frustrated by the media attention and disrespect of the police and District Attorney’s office. Her initial questions were simple: Why are you here? Why do you even care? But as is became clear to her that we were there to help in whatever way she wanted or felt was appropriate we became a tight-knit group. We made damn sure she was surrounded by other parents with similar experiences, like Carolyn Wagner, Judy Shepard, Gabi Clayton and others. Local and outside activists worked together to work with local media (and trying to get more attention in the LGBT community and in the media for this crime, neither an easy feat).
We worked with local law enforcement, who were relying on assumptions and bias and did not grasp the situation as it related to hate crimes. The Cortez Journal was a huge support and did an amazing job. After much effort, The Washington Post, Advocate, Teen People, In the Life, and others finally told Fred’s story.
In the years following his death, Paula became an advocate for LGBT people, speaking as much as she could and doing as much as possible under the circumstances. I vividly remember sitting with her at an event for the Transgender Day of Remembrance in Denver, ironically the night before the film’s festival premiere, and her usual fear of public speaking, which was a constant challenge for this strong but soft-spoken woman. As they approached us with the mic, I whispered what I always knew was the best advice I could give: talk about Fred.
Within moments the adult transgender people were in tears at her works of kindness and unconditional love for her child. She told the story of her advice to Fred when he was teased at school: “my love,” she would say, “just tell them not to hate you because you are beautiful.” A keychain with that saying is at his gravesite.
But it took the incredible commitment of the producers of the film to realize the power of Fred’s story in a larger historical context and create a legacy that befits this brave and powerful young person we lost far too soon. This film is a gift to the world and gives us all a chance to think about gender diversity through the lens of traditional American values in a very different way. It gives voice to the Two-Spirit tradition and culture and can educates us all about how the world would be a better place if we simply listened to wiser cultures that have come before us that recognized and celebrated gender diversity.
My prayer is that millions watch this film and begin to think differently about the people around them, whether they are gay, lesbian, bisexual, straight, or transgender. This film is Fred’s legacy and gift to the world and it is thrilling that PBS’s Independent Lens has chosen to give it the platform and audience it deserves and need to have the impact it was destined to have in the larger culture. Thank you Fred, for giving us this gift with your life and death. Good will come from this, pain and grief and horror will be transformed to hope and love and change. For this we should all be very grateful to Fred, his mother Paula for sharing her story and to all the Two Spirit people who shared their stories in this film.
Watch this film. Your heart will open and your spirit will be transformed.
— Cathy Renna