Claire Wolfever was 22 years old and working at the Wal-Mart in Hermitage, Pennsylvania. Hermitage is a small town in Mercer County, between Erie and Pittsburgh. When she disclosed her gender identity to her coworkers, she claims they harassed and threatened her. She filed a complaint with the company, but felt threatened enough to steal her grandfather’s gun and shoot one of her coworkers in the back. He survived and I am told has made a complete recovery.
Claire then sat in her car in the parking lot, waiting for the police. That part of this story always chokes me up. She didn’t flee. She didn’t hide. She waited for what she surely knew would be swift consequences. Or maybe she didn’t realize that.
Today, Claire was sentenced to 18-40 years for attempted homicide, a very stiff punishment considering all of the mitigating factors.
She has spent the past 19 months detained in the male pod of the Mercer County Jail. Regulations that require state and federal prisons to meet the needs of transgender inmates. Because Claire was not undergoing any sort of medical treatment for gender dysphoria or in an approved medical transition process, she was denied hormone therapy and related supports for these 19 months.
Claire grew up in Mercer County. Her access to transgender competent health care was nil. She would have had to travel regularly to either Erie or Pittsburgh to see a trans competent therapist and physicians to begin hormone treatment. If her insurance covered it, if she had health insurance. If she had a car and gas money. If she had enough time off work to make those trips.
I agree that she should face consequences for a terrible decision that could have been lethal. But I also think this is about far more than a workplace dispute between two people. What is the work culture at Wal-Mart like? What accountability does their management team have for not intervening more rapidly? There are no nondiscrimination protections for gender identity (or sexual orientation) in Mercer County.
What about the relative who had a gun with ammo that was within reach of Claire? Where is that discussion in the gun control debate? If a gun is properly secured, it shouldn’t be able to be stolen. If you have someone in your family coping with harassment or other struggles, what is your culpability to take even more measures to secure your weapons?
Why is the middle of Pennsylvania a healthcare desert for LGBTQ and transgender folks, specifically? How can UPMC be so world-class that they ignore tens of thousands of people, some of whom are the most medically vulnerable in our region?
There are other mitigating factors in Claire’s case, her personal story. I can’t share details at this point, but I suggest you take a read of the AMPLIFY stories from trans folks who live in rural Western PA to get some general perspective.
I think this quote from Judge Robert G. Yeatts summarizes the experiences of being trans in the rural Western PA legal system
“This is not about transitioning, bullying or prejudice,” Yeatts said. “Your actions were in no way justified. I believe you have no remorse … it’s all about you.”
It is one thing to hold Claire accountable for her actions. It is another thing entirely to erase her experiences as a trans woman and contort Claire into a self-serving narcissist because she (and her lawyers) stood up for her legal rights during this process. Wanting to be referred to by your actual name is all about you. And it doesn’t mean you lack remorse.
I wrote this blog post because I cannot find a single media outlet in the Shenango Valley that covered today’s sentence in a competent and accurate manner. Every single one of them deadnamed and misgendered her. They’ve been contacted by the public, the lawyers, GLAAD, etc. They don’t care.
Click through if you want, but know they all violate and disrespect Claire. They deadname her, they misgender her, and they use mug shots.
WFMJ (NBC affiliate)
WYTV (ABC affiliate)
Mercer County is a unique space in our region. Halfway between Pittsburgh and Erie, it is home to the virulently anti-LGBTQ Grove City College. Yet, one local school district recently implemented trans affirming policies for students which generated nasty backlash. The policy remains in effect. In the weeks following Claire’s arrest and the first round of transphobic hate reporting by the Shenango Valley media, hundreds of people organized a Facebook group centering Mercer County LGBTQ folks and a spin-off group focusing on young people. Nearly 1,000 people have joined and people are now interacting, organizing, and connecting.
We see you, Claire.