Missouri is preparing to execute the first openly transgender woman in the United States unless Governor Mike Parson grants clemency to Amber McLaughlin. She is scheduled to be injected with lethal drugs on Tuesday, January 5th, for the murder of a former girlfriend in 2003. Despite the attention being paid to McLaughlin’s sexual identity, her attorney, Larry Komp, has said that her gender identity is “not the main focus” of the clemency request, but rather issues such as her traumatic childhood and mental health problems, which were not presented at her trial.
According to the clemency petition, McLaughlin was abused by a foster parent who smeared feces on her face and was shocked with a stun gun by her adoptive father. The petition also cites diagnoses of depression and gender dysphoria, a condition that can cause significant distress due to the discrepancy between a person’s gender identity and the sex they were assigned at birth.
While the review process for the clemency request is ongoing, Komp has said that McLaughlin has demonstrated “incredible courage” in facing the hate and discrimination that transgender individuals often face. Jessica Hicklin, a friend of McLaughlin’s who served 26 years in prison for a drug-related killing in 1995, has said that McLaughlin’s personality flourished during her gender transition, which began about three years ago.
Hicklin, who began transitioning while in prison and successfully sued the Missouri Department of Corrections in 2018 for a policy prohibiting hormone therapy for inmates, became a mentor to McLaughlin and other transgender prisoners. She described their weekly “girl talks,” where they discussed the difficulties of being a transgender inmate in a male prison, such as obtaining feminine items and navigating rude comments and threats of violence.
Despite the challenges, McLaughlin remained positive and always had a joke to share, according to Hicklin. She also expressed insecurities about her safety, as well as concerns about being able to afford the legal fees associated with her case.
In addition to the clemency request, advocates for McLaughlin have called for a halt to the execution in light of the fact that she was not allowed to present evidence at her trial of the abuse and trauma she experienced as a child. They argue that this evidence could have been mitigating and could have resulted in a lesser sentence.
If McLaughlin is executed as scheduled, she will be the first openly transgender woman to be put to death in the United States. The anti-execution group Death Penalty Information Center has stated that there is no known precedent for such an execution in the country.
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