Transgender Man Brandon Teena Raped and Murdered

Brandon Teena was raped and murdered by two acquaintances after they found him to have female genitalia. The crime increased public awareness about gender-based violence and the right of transgender and gender-ambiguous persons to equal protection under the law. The case also sparked a focused transgender activism and was memorialized in the film Boys Don’t Cry.

Summary of Event

Brandon Teena was named Teena Renae Brandon at birth on December 12, 1972, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Brandon, who dressed at an early age in what were considered boys’ clothes, referred to herself after high school as a man and used masculine names such as Tena Ray, Billy, and Brandon. Brandon dated women exclusively, had several girlfriends, and was twice engaged to be married. Later, he would tell others that he was a hermaphrodite and needed surgery in order to fully become a man and that he was undergoing, or would soon be undergoing, gender reassignment surgery. [kw]Transgender Man Brandon Teena Raped and Murdered (Dec. 24, 1993-Dec. 31, 1993)
[kw]Brandon Teena Raped and Murdered, Transgender Man (Dec. 24, 1993-Dec. 31, 1993)
[kw]Teena Raped and Murdered, Transgender Man Brandon (Dec. 24, 1993-Dec. 31, 1993)
[kw]Raped and Murdered, Transgender Man Brandon Teena (Dec. 24, 1993-Dec. 31, 1993)
Hate crime;antitransgender
Transgender men
Gender-based violence[gender based violence]
[c]Transgender/transsexuality;Dec. 24, 1993-Dec. 31, 1993: Transgender Man Brandon Teena Raped and Murdered[2340]
[c]Crime;Dec. 24, 1993-Dec. 31, 1993: Transgender Man Brandon Teena Raped and Murdered[2340]
[c]Civil rights;Dec. 24, 1993-Dec. 31, 1993: Transgender Man Brandon Teena Raped and Murdered[2340]
[c]Laws, acts, and legal history;Dec. 24, 1993-Dec. 31, 1993: Transgender Man Brandon Teena Raped and Murdered[2340]
Teena, Brandon
Brandon, JoAnn
Tisdel, Lana
Nissen, Thomas
Lotter, John

Brandon left Lincoln in November, 1993, for several reasons: A number of people knew that he had been born female, his fiancé had recently broken up with him, and he had gotten into legal trouble over check forgery. Moving to Humboldt, Nebraska, where he would be a newcomer to town, was an opportunity for him to live as a man.

Brandon first stayed in Humboldt with his friend, Lisa Lambert, but shortly after the move, Brandon began dating Lana Tisdel and then lived with her at her mother’s home in nearby Falls City. Falls City, Nebraska He also began hanging out with Lana’s friends, including John Lotter and Thomas Nissen, the two who would rape and murder Brandon before the end of the year.

Brandon passed easily as a man, but in mid-December he was arrested for check forgery and was booked as a woman into jail. Law enforcement released information about the arrest, and the local newspaper, the Falls City Journal, published a crime report that identified Brandon as female.

Tisdel convinced Nissen to post bail for Brandon on December 22, 1993, and two days later the couple went to a Christmas Eve party at Nissen’s. At the party, Nissen and Lotter, who by this time suspected that Brandon was female, restrained Brandon and pulled down his pants to show Tisdel that he was female. Soon after, Tisdel was apparently called home by her mother; she left Brandon at the party and vowed to return. After she left, Nissen and Lotter physically assaulted Brandon at the party, then carried him out to a car. The men drove to a secluded area where they repeatedly raped and beat Brandon.

Brandon reported the assault and rapes to the Richardson County Sheriff’s Department, Richardson County Sheriff’s Department, and Brandon Teena rape and murder but it made no arrests. Sheriff Charles Laux, Laux, Charles during his interview of Brandon, seemed more interested in Brandon’s self-identification as a man than in the rape and assault, often getting off track during questioning to discuss Brandon’s personal life and gender identity. (Although activists and scholars, as well as the media, have identified Brandon as transgender, it is not clear if Brandon self-identified as transgender or transsexual. The taped interview with the sheriff’s department, however, does reveal Brandon using the words “gender identity disorder” to describe what he “has.”)

On December 28, 1993, Nissen and Lotter were questioned by deputies, but, again, no arrests were made. A deputy said later that Laux advised against making an arrest even though the deputy believed there was enough evidence to arrest Nissen and Lotter.

On December 31, sometime after midnight, Nissen and Lotter arrived at the Lambert farmhouse, where Brandon was once again staying with his friend, Lisa Lambert. Nissen and Lotter entered the home and then shot and killed Brandon, Lambert, and a houseguest, Philip DeVine, who was visiting from out of town; only Lisa’s infant son survived.

Nissen and Lotter were arrested later that day and eventually convicted of the murders. Nissen was sentenced to life imprisonment, without the possibility of parole, and Lotter was sentenced to death. Lotter appealed his death sentence, but his appeal had been denied in 2003.


Transgender individuals have been the victims of hate-crimes violence, including murder, long before the murder of Brandon Teena. However, Brandon’s rape and murder stands out because it received national press coverage and brought the realities of transgender experience to the public. American society came to be drawn to Brandon—both out of curiosity and out of anger. People were curious because Brandon was able to pass as a man (some argue it was deception) and some were outraged because of the absolute failure of law enforcement to protect him. Many believe that Sheriff Laux signed Brandon’s death warrant by his failure to arrest Nissen and Lotter. Transgender activists argue that this kind of indifference by law enforcement is widespread.

At Lotter’s trial, transgender activists from around the United States held a vigil outside the courtroom. Vigil participants included noted authors and activists Leslie Feinberg, Minnie Bruce Pratt, and Kate Bornstein.

Brandon’s mother, JoAnn Brandon, filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Laux and Richardson County, Nebraska. A judge initially awarded Brandon Teena’s mother a mere $17,360, but the state Supreme Court ordered the judge to reconsider that amount; in April, 2001, the judge awarded JoAnn Brandon $98,223. She appealed the new award as well, but the state Supreme Court in March, 2003, ruled the award reasonable.

Because of the publicity regarding Nissen and Lotter’s rape and murder of Brandon Teena, mainstream America has become aware of transgender people and attitudes toward them. In the more than a decade following the case, there has been a great demand for civil rights protection for transgender people. There are now numerous cities, a few states, and large corporations, such as Hewlett-Packard and Nike, which have instituted nondiscrimination legislation, including hate crime laws, and policies to protect transgender individuals.

Riki Wilchins, Wilchins, Riki executive director of the Washington-based Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (or GenderPAC), summed up this increased social awareness in an interview.

How many times do you get to see a giant sea change like this in people’s perceptions? But you look at Congress, corporate America, and cities and states, and you see this enormous change in how people are looking at gender as a civil rights issue.

Hate crime;antitransgender
Transgender men
Gender-based violence[gender based violence]

Further Reading

  • “’Boys Don’t Cry’ Sheriff Found Negligent.” Contemporary Sexuality 35, no. 5 (May, 2001).
  • Gilbert, Michael, ed. International Journal of Transgenderism 4, no. 3 (July/September, 2000). Special issue, “What Is Transgender?” http://www
  • Halberstam, Judith. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives. New York: New York University Press, 2005.
  • Huegel, Kelly. GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens. Minneapolis, Minn.: Free Spirit, 2003.
  • Jones, Aphrodite. All She Wanted. New York: Pocket Books, 1996.
  • Lambda Legal and National Youth Advocacy Coalition. Bending the Mold: An Action Kit for Transgender Youth. 2004. http://www.lambda
  • Sánchez, María Carla, and Linda Schlossberg, eds. Passing: Identity and Interpretation in Sexuality, Race, and Religion. New York: New York University Press, 2001.
  • Swigonski, Mary E., Robin S. Mama, and Kelly Ward. From Hate Crimes to Human Rights: A Tribute to Matthew Shepard. New York: Harrington Park Press and Haworth Social Work Practice Press, 2001.
  • Wilchins, Riki. Queer Theory, Gender Theory: An Instant Primer. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2004.
  • Willox, Annabelle. “Branding Teena: (Mis)Representations in the Media.” Sexualities 6, nos. 3-4 (August/November, 2003).

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