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February 23, 2023 35 mins

On New Years Eve of 1993, a 21-year-old transgender man named Brandon Teena was murdered in Humboldt, Nebraska. Brandon's life and subsequent murder were later depcited in the 1999 film "Boys Don't Cry." We speak with writer Donna Minkowitz, who covered the case back in the '90s, and has since written about the case in length. 

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Speaker 1 (00:03):
You're listening to Facing Evil, a production of iHeartRadio and
Tenderfoot TV. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast
are solely those of the individuals participating in the show
and do not represent those of iHeartRadio or Tenderfoot TV.
This podcast contains subject matter which may not be suitable
for everyone. Listener discretion is advised. Hello, everyone, Welcome back

to Facing Evil. I'mi Ve Gentile and I'm Rosha Peccurera.
This week we are covering a story that is incredibly
close to my heart. Yes, this week, we are talking
about Brandon Tina, a transgender man whose story was dramatized
in the nineteen ninety nine movie Boys Don't Cry, starring
Hilary Swing, and that movie was inspired by a nineteen

ninety four Village Voice article about the murder of Brandon Tina,
which was written by Donna Minkowitz. And Donna will be
our guest on today's episode. Yes, I'm very humbled and
honored for Donna to be with us today. She wrote
that article back in the early nineteen nineties, at a
time when the stories of trans people weren't really being

covered in the media. Donna's article is an in depth
expose on Brandon, on his community, and about what happened
to him. But the story does not end there. Donna
has had a long and fascinating journey with the case
of Brandon Tina, and we are going to get into
all of that today. Yes, I'm super excited about having

done on the show. But now our producer, mister Trevor Young,
is going to walk us through today's case. A Grewsome
triple murder nineteen years ago left emotional scars on the
people of Humboldt, Nebraska. Three people killed, including Brandon Tina,
a twenty one year old transgender Nebraskan who the convicted

murder announce it's on death row for he tried to
be true full to the kids he was with. He
was put down. The Bennon Ladder is hereby sentage in
the Family of Dead and the Murder and the Fresh
Free Murder of Dana Brand. Brandon Tina was a twenty
one year old transgender man who was killed on New

Year's Eve of nineteen ninety three by two men in Humboldt, Nebraska.
Brandon was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska and grew up in
Catholic school, but He frequently got into trouble, in one
instance for trying to alter the school uniform to look
more masculine. In November of nineteen ninety three, Brandon moved
to Humboldt, Nebraska, where he started dating eighteen year old

Launa Tisdal. Brandon presented as male to Launa and her friends,
who had no idea he was transgender. Then Brandon met
John Lauder and Tom Neeson. John was an ex boyfriend
of Laana, and both men were ex convicts, but the
four started to hang out together. On December nineteenth, Brandon

was arrested for forging checks, and when they arrested him,
the police put him in the women's section of the jail.
This was the first time that Launa realized he was
trans After Brandon was bailed out, the story of his
arrest was published in the local paper, and Brandon was
out at as transgender to this new group of friends.

Late on the night of Christmas Eve in nineteen ninety three,
Tom Neeson and John Lauder began to harass Brandon about
his gender presentation. They reportedly grabbed Brandon and pulled his
pants down, forcing Launa to look at his genitals. Then
they forced Brandon into John's car and drove him out
to an isolated area where they raped and beat him. Afterwards,

they threatened to kill him if he told anyone, but
Brandon did report the crime to the local sheriff, who
refused to arrest Lauder and Neeson. But the two men
learned about Brandon's attempt to report them, and they decided
to retaliate. On the night of December thirty first, Tom
Neeson and John Lauder found Brandon at a neighbor's house.

The two then shot and stabbed Brandon Tina, along with
two other people staying at the house. John Lauder and
Tom Neeson were arrested that afternoon. Both men were eventually
found guilty of first degree murder. As of today, Tom
Neeson is serving a life sentence and John Lauder is
still on death row. The murder of Brandonina became the

subject of the nineteen ninety nine movie Boys Don't Cry.
It also helped galvanize the burgeoning transgender rights movement. And so,
who was Brandon Tina? Why did law enforcement fail to
protect Brandon? And what does this story tell us about
the dangers the trans people face each and every day?

All Right? So today we have a very special guest
with the long and compelling history with this case, joining
us now to talk about Brandon Tina is author, activists journalists,
Donna Minkowitz. You may know her writings from The New
York Times, Salon, the Village Voice, or you may know

some of her Mani books, including Ferocious Romance and one
that I am obsessively reading as we speak, growing Up Gallum. Donna,
I know that you've been covering the story of Brandon
Tina since the very beginning in nineteen ninety four, and
you know there's so much to discover, and I know
it's been a long journey for you. So with that

being said, welcome to facing Evil Russia. And I are
so very honored to have you here. Well, thank you
so much for having me on. I'm excited to be here.
We're so honored that you're here, Donna. Yes, yes, So Donna,
before we start talking about Brandon, can you tell our
listeners like when you first started writing and why you

started writing? Gosh, I don't know if I should account
my bad attempts at poetry in fifth grade. Yes, I
should count that I've always really loved writing and reading
it was the thing that made me happy. My childhood
was a little rough, but my mother always really encouraged

me to read and write, you know, and then just
like creating words that were full of beauty and trying
to make something like that. It really really made me happy.
And then when I got to college and I started
getting more politically active, I wanted to write things that
I was passionate about. There were a lot of things
that seemed really unjust to me, and you know, I

wanted to try to change them if I could by
writing something. I was reading your book, like I said,
and I know that the Village Voice, you know, the
newspaper was very big in your household. Is that correct?
Oh yeah, My whole family loved it. So it was
free back then. It was like nothing else in the media,

you know, whether in New York or anywhere else. It
had queer stuff back then, and this is the nineteen
seventies when there wasn't queer stuff anywhere outside of a
like a gay or lesbian newspaper, certainly not on TV.
You know. They had a lot of left wing stuff

and they used dirty words, which no other media did
in those days. And my family really liked to read
the personal ads, which were like much better than like
those kinds of things aren't like dating profiles are today.
They were just like very artfully written. There were no photos,
so it had to all be in the writing. I

love that, I know. And when did you start at
the Village Voice, Donna? Well, I started doing some freelance
pieces when I was twenty two. I was having a
really bad time in grad school for comparative literature, but
I started. I started doing some book reviews for the Voice.
Then then I left my grad school program. I moved

back to New York City and I became a freelance
copy editor at the Voice, which meant I got to
be in the office and try to talk to editors.
And there was one editor who was like in charge
of all the queer stuff at the Voice. So I
was like, I'm gonna woo that man, I'm gonna get

my way in. Yeah. So I did that, and then
gradually I was covering a lot of LGBT stuff at
the paper. So on that point, Donna, did you know
about Brandon Tina's rape and then subsequent murder back when
it happened or is it because you were asked to
do the story for The Village Voice. I was asked

to do it. Actually, not that long after the murder happened.
I think the New York Times I'm just printed an
AP story about Brandon's rape and murder. And I guess
he was murdered in nineteen ninety three, And it was
probably early in the new year that my editor showed

me this AP story and we both thought, I'd like,
oh my god, this is an intense and amazing story.
I was really happy that he wanted me to go
and cover it to Nebraska. Oh so you actually went
to Nebraska to cover it. Oh yeah, wow, I didn't
realize that. I didn't know that either. Yeah. I went

to Nebraska, so I don't drive. I just it's kind
of crazy, the New Yorker in you. I knew this
lesbian documentary filmmaker named Susan Muska, so she came with me.
The Voice paid for some of her travel expenses, and
we went out to Nebraska. Brandon Tina grew up in Lincoln,

and he was murdered when he was living for a
couple months in a very small town, very conservative small
town called Humboldt. So Susan and I went and interviewed
people in both Lincoln and Humboldt. This would be early
nineteen ninety four. Wow, so right after he was murdered.

Right after he was murdered, it was pretty intense going
to the town. Except for one of Brandon's girlfriends in
the town was Launa Tisdale. And except for Launa and
her family, no one we spoke to you expressed sadness
or regret that Brandon had been killed. It was just

a very it's a very conservative town. I looked very
butch in those days, and so did so Susan, who
was traveling with me, and everyone knew who we were,
you know, we were like the lesbian journalists from New York.

But anyway, we uh we we did talk to people,
and we interviewed a lot of people, and we also
spoke to um Brandon's mother and a lot of women
who Brandon had previously dated. Right and Lincoln, and also
Brandon's gay cousin, Maury oh Right certainly told us a

lot of stuff that we hadn't known. Wow. Wow. And
I don't know if you've seen whose, but he was cute.
He I think I think Hilary Swank did a good
job of pulling off the handsomeness factor. I couldn't agree more.
I think she did an amazing job in speaking about
you know, Boys Don't Cry. This is a question that

I had for you when um, the director of the
movie Boys Don't Cry, said that she was inspired by
the piece that you wrote, How did that make you feel? Well?
It made me feel really good, because I think it's
a brilliant movie. I mean, I know that a number

of transactivists do have some problems with the movie, and
I think that's their right. I think their opinion about
about how it's portrayed is more important here than mine.
But kimberly Pierced the director actually, unfortunately did not say
that for a long time, for many years, right, yes,
for many years, And I would have appreciated hearing it

because actually, at the time my voice piece came out,
a number of people from Hollywood approached me to option
the story, but nobody really did so I was like, oh, okay, okay,
but anyway, it's fine. You know, no one has property
rights and the truth they did not have to pay me.

It was not my story. I think it's a brilliant movie.
I agree Boys Don't Cry. It was absolutely a brilliant movie,
and I love that you can you can tell obviously
you don't have hard feelings about Kimberly, you know, basically
making boys Don't Cry. I mean, maybe she should have
optioned it. I think, you know, she didn't have a

lot of money in those days. I didn't have a
lot of money in those days. So it's like, where
is the money going to come from? You know. So

going back to your piece in The Village Voice, you know,
Love Hurt, that came out in nineteen ninety four, but
then you did a retraction into eighteen called How I
Broke and watched the Brandon Tina's Story. And I have
to tell you, Donna, that it's incredibly brave because you
didn't have to do that. I would love to know

why why did you decide to write all these years
later that particular piece. Well, it had really been weighing
on my mind for a long time. My original article
was criticized a lot, you know, by transactivists and people
on the side of transactivists and academics, and I was

defensive about this criticism for quite a while. Yeah, you know,
at first I didn't understand because I thought, well, my
piece was on Brandon Tina's side, right. And it was
only you know, as the years passed and I started
educating myself more about trans issues that I realized how

ignorant I had been. I mean, back then, in nineteen
ninety three, I thought many people sort of in the
like the cultural way that trans people were portrayed. I
thought that if someone was trans, that meant that they
surgically altered their body and they had hormone treatments. I

didn't understand that trans people were just trans and they
didn't have to, you know, prove it by doing anything
to their body. And I think also a lot of
us who were siss gay and lesbian people were scared
of the trans movement for some really really wrong reasons.

But we had this mistaken idea that trans people were
really gay and lesbian people who wanted to be like,
considered normal, So they weren't going to be like trans
straight people, and they were going to say, like, oh,
we're normal, We're just in the wrong body. So, I mean,

I was very ignorant. I didn't know that there are
you know, lesbian trans people and gay trans people and
bisexual trans people. It has nothing to do with whether
you're CIS or trans, there's still all kinds of possible
sexual orientation configurations. Yeah, but I think I was motivated

by this as well. So in my original peace, I
kind of I mean, I wanted to honor what I
thought of as Brandon living as a man and portraying
themselves as a man. But I didn't I didn't understand
that Brandon in fact identified as a man and should

be treated as such. So I sort of took Brandon
as a CIS lesbian who you know who? Wow, I
wanted to live as a man. Wow, that was very bold.
I didn't understand that he was just being himself. So yeah,
I do really regret the way I wrote the piece.

I had been wanting to apologize for years. I actually
sort of apologize quietly. In the year twenty fourteen, I
was promoting a book and I was interviewed in a
queer paper in San Francisco and they said, do you
have anything else to say? And I said, oh, I
would like to apologize to the trans community, but not

that many people read it, you know, And I kind
of wanted to do it in a big way. Well
that was a big way, Donna. Yeah, Yeah, and you know, Donna,
I just have to commend you, you know, because not
a lot of people would do that. They would just
you know, blow it off, you know. But you, you know,
you obviously thought deeply about this and evolved right and

made an effort to to write another story about you know,
how you how you felt, how you have changed, you know,
because you know, back in the nineties it was right,
it was a different time. We didn't really know all
the things that we know now, you know, And so
when we think about Brandon Tina, like it's almost thirty years,

you know, since his murder, do you think that society
has evolved since then? I guess I would have to
say like yes and no, like a really strong yes
and a really strong no. You know. Culturally, the fact
that there are musicians who are out and trance and

authors and some films and TV and actors who are out,
that's wonderful. Yeah, I think the level of knowledge is
dramatically greater. But on the other hand, you know, we
have things like those far right people really going after

trans people viciously, both saying that you know, trans people
are groomers, and you know, passing passing all these laws
like you know, parents who parents who support their trans kids,
you know, can be investigated for child abuse, just which
is careless. I think it's a very frightening time to

be a trans person, you know, despite all the advances.
I agree, Donna, and I think it's so important, just
as you did, you know, back in twenty eighteen, and
you know, years earlier, you showed up as a trans
ally and that's what we want to be here. And
I hope that the world can evolve and catch up

as well. And I think we you've proven that we
have to use our voices for good, right And I
would like to know you did say, you know, even
wanting to, you know, to apologize to the trans community
for a long time. What made you start to differently?
Was there someone in your life that inspired you or
did you like what made it change for you personally? Well,

one thing was someone in my life actually not a
trans person. The woman I married. She's a therapist now,
but she had been an academic in gender studies, and
you know, when she was teaching me all this stuff,

I knew that she kind of was better informed about
trans people than me. And we would talk about it
and I was like, ah, oh, she said that she
said that, and you know, I started looking at her
books and thinking about things she said, and then I
really started making an effort to um to educate myself more,

getting to know more trans people. I teach writing sometimes,
I teach memoir writing classes. And I have a student
who also worked with me privately, who was a trans
musician working on a memoir and working with him help
me help me learn a lot as well. That's so beautiful. Yeah,

that's you know, I can say the same. It's like,
I'm so lucky, you know, to have my sister because
you know, just having people in your circle that helped
to educate you makes you a stronger ally. Right. So
your wife, you know, has taught you and different people,
different encounters that you've had in your life. What would

you tell people or tell our listeners, like, what avenues
could they take to educate themselves, you know, to find
out more about the trans community. Just thinking about this
trans musician who I worked with, who was my student
working with him on his memoir, I saw so strongly.

You know, he's different from me. That's something I had
to learn. Nope, he is not a lesbian though, he's
someone who was assigned female at birth. You know who
is attracted to women? He's no, he's not. He's different
from me. Sometimes it's hard to realize that not everyone

is like you, right, not being yourself everywhere, and some
people are genuinely different from you. They have different desires
and different needs. So m yes, getting getting to know
trans people and also reading. There's a lot of great
essays out there and books by trans writers and trans academics. Oh,

there's an excellent book called Brilliant Imperfection by a trans
writer named Eli Claire. Oh, I haven't heard about that.
One great book. He is trans and he is also disabled,
and the book is kind of about how to come
to acceptance about things about yourself that you might not

love or you wish, you wish might be different, but
how to do that and still love yourself. So I
find that a really helpful book. There's a I believe
it's called The Transgender Studies Reader, or maybe it's now
called the Trans Studies Reader. But that was that was

excellent and really informed me a lot. So circling back

to Brandon, and I know, of course we cannot turn
back time. We can't change what happened. And I know
this is a very hard question for me to ask you.
But so, if Brandon would have been murdered in twenty
twenty three, or even if Brandon had reported the rape

that happened in twenty twenty three, do you think things
would have ended up differently. That's a really good question.
And I think maybe the key further question is where,
depending on where it happened, I mean, if it had
happened in humbold Nebraska, I honestly don't know. I think

it would have been at least a little bit better.
I mean, back then, when he reported the rape, the
sheriff called him an it and said, you know, like
what am I supposed to do? You know, first you
seemed to be a boy, then you seem to be
a girl. The sheriff used his own discomfort about Brandon
being trans as an excuse not to find the rapists

and prosecute the rape. Yeah, Nissan and Lauder, the rapists
had told Brandon that if he reported the rape, they
would kill him, and that's what they did. So I
think that sheriff is really to blame. But I think
if Brandon, um, you know, we're a young person today
who was murdered, I think he would be identified as

a trans man in the press, as did not happen. Then.
I mean, it's it's hard because I mean, of course
trans people are still being killed, very widely killed, so
it's still terrible, even if some of them might be
identified who as who they are after their deaths. Yeah,

you're so right, you know. It's it's like we've come
so far, but yet we're still in the same place,
so to speak. You know, but if Brandon Tina would
have been killed in twenty twenty three, stay in San
Francisco or California, maybe it would be very different, right,
because so many people that are more awake and care

about the queer community, right, Yeah, there are so many
more people who care. I think the sad part is
unfortunately the murders. The murders do keep happening. I did
want to say, you know, thinking about the anti trans
movement today, the election of Donald Trump in twenty sixteen

really threw me for a loop. I had not thought
that things were in danger of going so far backward,
and even though he was not re elected in twenty twenty,
the fact that we have this huge far right movement
now targeting trans people and queer people. It's a little

hard sometimes to square that with my day to day
life as someone who lived in the town where I
don't say someone's gonna beat me up for being gay,
but knowing that people are passing these anti trans laws
all over the country, it's kind of hard keeping the
two things in your mind at the same time. Yeah, yeah,

it can be hard to compartmentalize it. I can see that.
You know, we've been developing facing evil since we did
Root of Evil back in twenty nineteen, and one of
the first cases I knew we had to speak about Brandon.
I knew that, and it's because I wanted more people
that didn't see boys don't cry to know about transgender

issues or things that are going on in the world.
You were making me think of two years ago here
in the upstate New yorktown where I live, we had
a Queer and Transliberation March that I was one of
the organizers of, and we had a speak out afterwards,
and the thing that blew me away was the kids,

all of these teenage these non binary and trans teenagers
getting up to speak about themselves, and they made me
so happy. All of these young people wanting to be
who they were changing the nature of how gender is

understood as we speak. I just loved them. Like you
said earlier, you know, the more that you educate yourself
and you get to know people, and you read and
you do your research, you know, you're fine that we
are all so similar in so many ways, you know,
and just by me, you know, reading your book growing

Up golemn Like, it was so fascinating to me because
I could see parts of you know, my mother's life
and my grandmother's life, like through your book, you know,
and how you were raised. So we all, you know,
have a little little bit of each other in us.

You know. That's what I truly believe. Yeah, we do.
My memoir writing students, they're often afraid, like, why would
anybody be interested in my life? And I tell them, actually,
I think every single human beings life is interesting. Everyone
has life, you know, you just have to write it
in such a way that other people can see it.

But I think to your point that we can identify
with something in anyone else's life. It doesn't have to
be exactly the same as ours, but we do have
very similar basic feelings and needs, you know, even if
our lives have been very different. Absolutely, Donna, if you

could please with everything that you know about Brandon Tina
after going to Nebraska and meeting his family and covering
the story, what can you tell us what did you
learn covering Brandon Tina's story and who he was as
a human being and what his legacy is now. When

I was starting to work on my apology article in
twenty eighteen, I went back over a whole box of
notes I had from nineteen ninety three when I was
writing the first piece, and I was shocked to see
a number of things about Brandon that I had forgotten.
He was only twenty one when he was murdered, and

he had wanted to be a commercial artist, so I
had forgotten that. I had no idea he was interested
in art at all. Also, his mother said that he
was really outspoken in the conservative Catholic high school that
he went to. You know, she said, if the priest
said one thing he said, you know, he would say

the opposite. And I actually recently found out that it
was specifically he was criticizing Catholic hierarchy teachings about homosexuality
and contraception. I had forgotten this. I had ignored that
in my article, and I think in nineteen ninety three
it was difficult to access transgender healthcare, I think in

Nebraska or anywhere else, but Brandon tried. He went to
gender clinics, and he tried to avail himself of what
was out there. But it was not easy for him.
And something we haven't mentioned, you know, his family was poor.
He never had a high paying job, he often didn't

have a job. His mother sometimes was on disability. They
lived in a trailer park. Their friends were also poor,
so it was particularly I think, not easy for him
to access those kinds of services. So I guess I
want to remember him as someone someone who wanted to
be an artist, someone who is outspoken. And I also

remember he wrote these kind of really like mushy and
sweet and romantic cards for his last girlfriend, Laa for Launa. Yeah, yes,
and Donna, I have to thank you for your words
in all of your books, all of your different articles,

but especially what you've written about Brandon and what you
have done with your voice. And I have to thank
you for your bravery and inspiring all of us to
use our own voices and tell our own stories because
just like you said to your writing students, like everyone

has a story, and I think that's how we can
all somehow find common ground and live, as cheesy as
it sounds, in a more beautiful world. Thank you from
the bottom of our hearts. Thank you, thank you, Thank
you for being here, Donna. I know this is going
to be great episode and our listeners are going to

just be fully engaged because you have so much wisdom,
so much kindness, so much heart, and we are so
appreciate your time. Thank you. It was really great to
be with you both. Thank you so much, Donna. This

week's message of hope and healing is for Brandon Tina,
who was adamant about living life as the person he
truly was in nearly impossible circumstances. Brandon Tina was headstrong, outspoken.
What kind of impact could he have made We'll never know.
He shouldn't have had to lose his life or live

with the fear and abuse, but his death helped pave
the way for so many others after him to live
their truth. And so this week we move onward and
upward by recognizing those who face similar struggles. If you're
on that path today, then we see you and we
honor you. Onward and upward, imamua, Well, that is our

show for today. We'd love to hear what you thought
about today's discussion and if there is a case that
you'd like us to cover. Find us on social media
at Facing Evil Pod or email us at Facing Evil
Pod at tenderfoot dot tv. And one request, if you
haven't already, please find us on iTunes and give us
a good review and a good rating. If you like

what we do, your support is always cherished. Until next
time a loja. Facing Evil is a production of iHeartRadio

and Tenderfoot TV. The show is hosted by Russia Peccarero
and Avechantile. Matt Frederick and Alex Williams our executive producers
on behalf of iHeartRadio, with producers Trevor Young and Jesse Funk,
Donald Albright and Payne Lindsay our executive producers on behalf
of Tenderfoot TV, alongside producer Tracy Kaplan. Our researcher is

Carolyn Talmidge. Original music by Makeup and Vanity Set. Find
us on social media or email us at Facing Evil
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