Last week, in a region of the country experiencing a sharp rise in extremist activity, a Washington man was sent to prison for nearly 20 years for the brutal murder of a transgender girl.
“She could have been anyone’s son or daughter,” Clark County, Washington, Superior Judge David Gregerson said during the sentencing of David Bogdanov on Sept. 9, according to The Advocate. Bogdanov, 27, strangled 17-year-old Nikki Kuhnhausen and dumped her body near a remote mountain before fleeing to Ukraine.
Visibly shaken during sentencing, Judge Gregerson said he was “struck by the darkness in this case.”
Bogdanov was convicted of second-degree murder and malicious harassment — the latter is a hate crime under Washington law. According to data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Crime Data Explorer, there were 77 hate crimes against LGBT people in the state of Washington during 2020.
“The trend around trans women in particular is something we have seen continue to rise over the last several years,” said Cathy Renna, Communications Director for the National LGBTQ Task Force. “I don’t think it’s hard to connect the dots in terms of the increased visibility and attacks on the trans community by anti-LGBT organizations and attempts to pass anti-trans legislation and issues related to trans youth and sports. The trans community very much has a target on its back.”
Bogdanov’s trial took place in Vancouver, Washington, a bedroom community across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon where right-wing extremists have frequently staged rallies under the guise of free speech in attempts to provoke the city’s left-wing activists. Bogdanov’s lawyers tried to argue the killing was in self-defense, claiming he discovered Kuhnhausen’s gender identity after sexual contact.
“When the defense asked him what was going through his head when he went through the struggle, his first response was ‘I was deceived,’” argued prosecuting attorney Kristen Arnaud, according to News 10. “It wasn't ‘I was afraid,’ it wasn't ‘I was threatened,’ his motivation this entire time has been about that, have been about his hate, his rage, and his shame for finding out Nikki is transgender, it's not about fear.”
Kuhnhausen went missing in June of 2019 and her body was discovered six months later. Bogdanov’s 19-year, six-month prison sentence was the maximum allowed for second-degree murder. He will serve 12 months concurrently for the hate crime enhancement, reports the Columbian newspaper.
After Kuhnhausen’s death, Washington and Oregon passed laws banning the use of the LGBTQ panic defense by defendants accused of violent crimes against LGBT people. Both states also have penalty enhancements for hate crimes committed against a person based on the victim’s sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
“A hate crime is not just directed at that one person, it’s meant to send a message to an entire group of people and that’s why hate crimes are so incredibly damaging beyond the individual who is victimized but to their community,” Renna said.
Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the country and two weeks after the FBI released its annual hate crimes statistics, there has been no comment from the office of Florida’s attorney general. According to the FBI, Florida is one of five states — along with Alaska, California, New York and New Jersey — that are not certified by the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS).
Only 452 of Florida's 687 law enforcement agencies participated in the FBI’s hate crime program in 2020 for a total of 109 hate crimes reported. By contrast, 243 of Washington’s 275 law enforcement agencies participated for a total of 451 hate crimes reported. Washington’s estimated population is 7.7 million while Florida’s is 21.5 million.
In a press release, the Anti-Defamation League called on Florida law enforcement agencies to step up its data collection procedures.
“Underreporting of hate crimes in Florida, and nationwide, is a severe obstacle to investigation and prosecution of these crimes, which leads to a lack of accountability for bias-motivated offenses that can intimidate, isolate, and terrorize entire communities,” said Sarah Emmons, ADL Florida Regional Director.
Only 54 Florida law enforcement agencies reported hate crimes to the FBI in 2020. There were 145 Florida cities with no hate crimes reported, including St. Petersburg, a city with over 250,000 people.
Also concerning, the ADL reports there are no penalty enhancements for hate crimes committed in Florida based on the victim’s gender or gender identity.
On a national scale, 2020 saw a 6% increase in reported hate crimes with 7,759 incidents. In total, 57% of the country’s law enforcement agencies contributed to the NIBRS.
This year’s report set off alarms at the Matthew Shepard Foundation, an organization that seeks to erase hate in the memory of Shepard, a 21-year-old gay college student savagely attacked and killed in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998.
“Not only are we alarmed by the continued increase in the number of reported hate crimes, but immensely disturbed that the number of law enforcement agencies participating in data collection has fallen for the second year in a row,” said Judy Shepard, Matthew’s mother and the Foundation’s president. “Our communities deserve better.”