- DeAndre Matthews, a 19-year-old, gay Black college student, was found dead on February 7.
- The severity of his injuries lead his family to suspect he was the victim of a hate crime.
- Community activists are warning members of the LGBTQ+ community of an increase in violence.
DeAndre Matthews — a 19-year-old Black college student — was reported missing on February 7, a day after he borrowed his mother’s car and didn’t return home.
The car was found nearly 10 minutes from the 19-year-old Black college student’s home after being located by a tracking function on the vehicle, ABC News reported.
Danielle Matthews, the man’s mother, noticed a dark tint on the inside of the car’s windows and called the police. Smoke emitted from the back seat when police opened the door.
“I knew my son was gone from that moment,” Matthews told ABC News.
A few hours later, police were notified of a body on the freight train tracks near Nostrand Avenue in Flatbush.
The body, which had significant burns and a gunshot wound to the head, was identified as DeAndre Matthews. The NYPD told Insider there were signs of smoke inhalation.
Matthews was pronounced dead at the scene. The city’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled him a victim of homicide, with the cause of death having been gunshot wounds of the head with perforation of the skull and brain.
The case, which remains under investigation, comes during a drop in homicides across New York City, according to city crime data. Danielle believes her son’s death was a hate crime because of Matthews’ sexual orientation and the severity of his injuries.
“He was gay. And I feel as if this could’ve been a hate crime,” Danielle told NBC New York. She also believes DeAndre might have met his killer online because he had occasionally met new acquaintances via the internet, ABC News reported. Insider reached out to the family for comment but was unable to make contact.
Police officials have not said whether they have a reason to believe whether Matthews’ death was a hate crime, telling Insider that “the circumstances surrounding this incident remain under investigation.”
While no motive has been determined and no arrests have been made, members of the community share Danielle’s concerns.
“What we do know is that a gay boy that was 19 years old, that was full of life, that had his whole life ahead of him, was studying to be a social worker who was loved by his family and friends, was horrifically killed in a violent way, in a dramatic way that was meant to send some sort of message to our community, because otherwise, why would such a heinous crime be taken under?” Orie Givens, Director of Communications for the New York City Anti-Violence Project, told Insider.
National to local crisis
In 2022, The Human Rights Campaign, the country’s largest LGBTQ civil rights organization, found that 1 out of every 5 hate crimes is now motivated by anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Additionally, a survey by the Anti-Violence project reported that 3 in 5 LGBTQ organizations experienced hate violence, and the majority fear more incidents of hate in the future. Across New York City specifically, hate crimes against the LGBTQ community are up by nearly 50 percent.
Earlier this month, 30-year-old Angelina Cando was arrested for setting fire to a Pride flag at New York City’s Soho Little Prince restaurant. In December, protesters — some of them armed — gathered outside Drag Queen Story Hour events at libraries in Chelsea, Queens and elsewhere.
The Proud Boys — a male chauvinist extremist group associated with the Capitol Riot — protested Drag Story Hours on 18 occasions across the US last year, Insider previously reported.
Givens told Insider that while these experiences in New York might be shocking, it’s not surprising because the “culture of violence” against the LGBTQ community is growing.
“Particularly our trans women of color, our Black trans women, our non-binary folks, those who have multiple marginalized identities face different types of violence on a daily basis,” said Givens. “What we may be perceiving as an increase is actually something that’s been ongoing and growing over time.”
New York City, considered to be one of the few LGBTQ-friendly cities in the country, is not excused from anti-LGBTQ violence, a notion that Doug Meyer, author of “Violence against Queer People: Race, Class, Gender, and the Persistence of Anti-LGBT Discrimination” wants people to understand.
“Part of what needs to change is this idea that anti-LGBTQ violence is something that can be escaped by living in a particular place,” he said. “There are undoubtedly regional and geographic differences, I am not dismissing that, but this is also a broader American problem.”
Increase in anti-queer violence
Meyer’s research suggests anti-LGBTQ language has been especially prevalent against transgender people and the increase in anti-LGBTQ violence can be attributed to emboldened far-right movements, which have become increasingly open and forthcoming with their use of transphobic and anti-LGBTQ language.
Insider investigated 175 homicides of transgender and non-binary people who were killed in the United States and Puerto Rico between 2017 and 2021. The investigation revealed that transgender homicides doubled between 2019 and 2021 — during the same time anti-LGBTQ legislation was at a record high.
According to the ACLU, the number of bills targeting the LGBTQ community is at a record high, with Republicans across the country currently proposing 327 anti-LGBTQ bills. Most of them target transgender people.
“This violence disproportionately targets the most marginalized LGBTQ people because that is how social inequality works. Assailants are more likely to direct their attention to already-marginalized folks, therefore the most marginalized people will experience most forms of violence,” he said, adding that Black queer people are more likely to experience violence than many other social groups due to the intersections of racism, class inequality, and anti-LGBTQ prejudice.
In 2022, at least 38 transgender people were fatally shot or killed. Of those victims, 59% were Black.
Insider’s investigation revealed that nearly two-thirds of those killed were Black women, and 85% were people of color.
The number of known homicides involving LGBTQ people is likely an undercount — as the sexual orientation of the victims is not always known or the crimes go unsolved completely as witnesses don’t feel comfortable talking to law enforcement.
“Things that are happening every day to folk in our communities are often going unreported, and therefore, there’s no data on it,” Kerbie Joseph, the Safe OUTside the System coordinator at Audre Lorde Project, told Insider.
“There are a plethora of reasons why hate crimes against queer people do not make it into police reports, one being members of the community not feeling safe enough to involve law enforcement,” Joseph said. “People who are completely marginalized within the trans and gender nonconforming community are too afraid to report things because of not trusting police, or hospitals, and for good reason.”
Misgendering is another leading factor.
Insider’s 2022 investigation, “Deaths in the Family,” showed a majority of the 175 transgender victims between 2017 and 2021 were misnamed or misgendered on incident reports and coroner’s reports, as well as in statements by police officers and prosecutors, and in interviews with witnesses.
“There’s actually more violence happening against our community than what is known to the public, and it reflects the increased anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ legislation moving across the country,” said Victoria Kirby York, Director of Public Policy and programs at the National Black Justice Coalition.
Of the 175 victims, only three killings were prosecuted as hate crimes and at the time of publication in November 2022, 61 cases remained unsolved.
“I think the increase in local media coverage of these stories have helped, and trans grassroots groups holding vigils and rallies to bring awareness to these deaths are incredibly important because the public attention helps to hold law enforcement and other public officials accountable to do right by the community,” Kirby York said.
“We have to be on guard, we have to be vigilant,” Givens added. “We don’t have to panic, but we have to strategize and organize to face these growing threats that are facing our communities no matter where we live.”