Press

Attorney General Reno Responds To Task Force Inquiry

Date: 
June 20, 1996

Attorney General Janet Reno has assured the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) that investigators are considering anti-lesbian bias as a possible motivation in the slaying of Julianne Williams and Lollie Winans. In a letter to NGLTF executive director Melinda Paras, Reno stated investigators are "... pursing all motives, including the possibility that the crime was motivated by the sexual orientation of the victims."

Williams and Winans were found murdered in Virginia's Shenandoah National Park on June 1. Many in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community and others familiar with the nature of hate crimes fear the killings could have been an anti-lesbian hate crime. This fear stems from the fact that the women, according to press reports and friends of the women, were lesbians; robbery was not involved in the crime; and no other motive has apparently been established. Also, the Appalachian Trail was the site of the 1988 murder of Rebecca Wight. Wight was murdered, and her partner, Claudia Brenner, was seriously injured after being shot because they were lesbians.

The Task Force contacted Attorney General Reno by letter on June 7 when concerns were raised that the possibility of a hate crime was not being seriously considered by investigators. These concerns stemmed from a conversation with an FBI official involved in the case and from various statements to the press by investigators that indicated the possibility of anti-lesbian bias was being prematurely dismissed. Executive Director Melinda Paras issued the following statement in response to the Attorney General's letter:

We are gratified and relieved that the Justice Department is examining all possible motives in the tragic murder of Julie Williams and Lollie Winans. With Attorney General Reno's assurance that anti-lesbian bias is being seriously considered, the Task Force is now able to express confidence in the investigation to our community and all involved in the struggle against bias violence. NGLTF will, of course, continue to monitor the investigation with vigilance. The Task Force will continue to work with the Justice Department and the FBI and to educate the larger public about the nature of hate violence. We hope the Attorney General's letter will finally put an end to statements by investigators that have given the impression the possibility of anti-lesbian bias is not being considered. Such statements are a disservice to all those working to solve this horrific crime and add to the misunderstandings of bias crime by the greater public.

We do not know if Julie and Lollie were killed because they were lesbians. We do know, unfortunately, such a possibility is all too real. We also know it is important that all hate crimes be identified accurately and honestly by the media and the criminal justice system. Silence about such crimes feeds the apathy and ignorance that often surrounds them. Silence around hate violence and the possibility of such violence also ignores the other victims of these crimes - whole communities who live in fear and danger as a result of individual anti-gay attacks.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is grateful for Attorney General Reno's understanding and response to our concerns and the DOJ's commitment to a comprehensive investigation. It is our hope that future statements to the press by investigating officials will enhance our confidence in the investigation, not undermine it. It is our hope that the killer or killers of Julie and Lollie are found quickly and brought to justice and our questions about the nature of these killings are finally answered.

Shirley Lesser of Virginians for Justice, a statewide organization that advances equal justice gay, lesbian bisexual and transgender citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia, issued the following statement in response to the Attorney General's letter:

Virginians for Justice (VJ) is pleased that Department of Justice listened and responded in a timely fashion to our concerns. Though individual investigators assured us that all possible motives are being pursued, we are relieved to have this officially confirmed by the Attorney General. VJ will continue to work closely with the Virginia State Police and the investigative team to ensure a quick resolution to this case.

The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is the oldest national gay and lesbian group and is a progressive organization that has supported grassroots organizing and pioneered in national advocacy since 1973. Since its inception, NGLTF has been at the forefront of virtually every major initiative for lesbian and gay rights. In all its efforts, NGLTF helps to strengthen the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender movement at the state level while connecting these activities to a national vision for change.

–30–

The mission of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force is to build the political power of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community from the ground up. We do this by training activists, organizing broad-based campaigns to defeat anti-LGBT referenda and advance pro-LGBT legislation, and by building the organizational capacity of our movement. Our Policy Institute, the movement’s premier think tank, provides research and policy analysis to support the struggle for complete equality and to counter right-wing lies. As part of a broader social justice movement, we work to create a nation that respects the diversity of human expression and identity and creates opportunity for all. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., we also have offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis and Cambridge.