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When The New York Times reported recently that the Justice Department had assigned a federal hate crimes lawyer to help prosecute a man charged with murdering a transgender student in Iowa, the civil rights community did a double-take.

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After all, the move came at the request of U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a Republican stalwart who condemned same-sex marriage and voted against expanding federal hate crimes laws to protect transgender people as an Alabama senator, the report said. He also determined that the DOJ no longer considered gay or transgender people to be protected from workplace discrimination and reversed a policy urging schools to allow transgender students use bathrooms that fit their gender identities.

So, why is the Trump administration interested in Kedarie Johnson‘s case? Here are the details: Kedarie, 16, was shot to death in March 2016 in Burlington, Iowa. Johnson, who was gay, identified as both a woman and a man, family and friends told local media outlets. Jorge Sanders-Galvez, whose trial is set to begin on Oct. 24, was charged in the death and a motive has not been revealed, according to the New York Daily News.

But Vanita Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division in the Obama administration, surmised that the administration likely draws lines between discrimination and death.

“He [Sessions] has no problem with discrimination against L.G.B.T.Q. people in jobs, education and other facets of life, but will lean forward in this one case where a transgender individual has been killed,” Gupta told The Times. “While it is of course good that D.O.J. is aggressively pursuing this case, it would behoove Sessions to connect the dots between his policies that promote discrimination and hate that can result in death.”

Christopher Perras, a Justice Department lawyer, will serve as a county prosecutor in the case, according to The Times.


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