Brandon Teena

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Brandon Teena (December 12, 1972–December 31, 1993) was a trans man who was raped and murdered in Humboldt, Nebraska.[1][2][3] His life and death were the subject of the Academy Award-winning 1999 film Boys Don't Cry, which was based on the documentary film The Brandon Teena Story.[4]


Teena was born as Teena Renae Brandon in Lincoln, Nebraska. Teena's family described him as a tomboy. While Teena was still living as a girl, he was sexually assaulted by a male relative. According to his mother, JoAnn Brandon, they sought counseling together in 1991. Teena began identifying as male in high school and dated several girls. His mother rejected his male identity and continued referring to him as her "daughter." Later his headstone was inscribed with his birthname and the epitaph "daughter, sister, & friend".[5] Teena claimed to be intersex several times, but this was later proven to be false.[6]

In 1993, after some legal trouble, Teena moved to the Falls City region of Richardson County, Nebraska, where he identified solely as a man. He became friends with several local residents. After moving into the home of Lisa Lambert, Teena began dating one of Lambert's friends, Lana Tisdel. He also began associating with ex-convicts John Lotter and Marvin "Tom" Nissen. Nissen was married and had two children. Tisdel and Lotter had been friends since early childhood and had dated several years before. Another man, Phillip DeVine, began to date Tisdel’s younger sister, and he also became friends with Teena.

In December, Teena was arrested for forging checks. Tisdel paid his bail. Because Teena was in the female section of the jail, Tisdel learned that he was transgender. When Tisdel later questioned Teena about his gender, he told her he was pursuing a sex change operation, and they continued dating.[6] In a law suit regarding the film adaptation Boys Don't Cry, this was disputed by Tisdel.[7][8] Teena's arrest was posted in the local paper under his birth name and his acquaintances subsequently learned that he was born female.


During a Christmas Eve party, Nissen and Lotter grabbed Teena and forced him to remove his pants, proving to Tisdel that Teena was transgender. Tisdel looked only when they forced her to, and said nothing. Lotter and Nissen then attacked Teena, and forced him into a car. They drove to an area by a meat-packing plant where they assaulted and raped him. They then returned to Nissen's home. Teena escaped from Nissen's bathroom by climbing out the window and went to Tisdel's house. He was convinced to file a police report, though Nissen and Lotter had warned Teena to remain silent. The police did not charge anybody due to lack of evidence. Teena also went to the emergency room where a standard rape kit was assembled, and later lost. Sheriff Charles B. Laux questioned Teena about the rape. Reportedly, he seemed especially interested in Teena's transsexuality, to the point that Teena found his questions rude and unnecessary, and refused to answer. Nissen and Lotter learned of the report, and they began to search for Teena. They did not find him, and three days later the police questioned them. The sheriff declined to have them arrested.

The two men left for Lambert’s house and broke in. They found Lambert in bed and demanded to know where Teena was. Lambert refused to tell them. Nissen searched and found Teena under the bed. The men asked Lambert if there was anyone else in the house, and she replied that DeVine was staying with her. They shot and killed DeVine, Lambert, and Teena, in front of Lambert's young child. Nissen and Lotter then left, later being arrested and charged with murder.[9]


Nissen blamed the crime on Lotter. In exchange for a reduced sentence, Nissen admitted to being an accessory to the rape and murder. Nissen testified against Lotter and was sentenced to life in prison. Lotter proceeded to deny the veracity of Nissen’s testimony, and his testimony was discredited. The jury found Lotter guilty of murder and sentenced him to death. Lotter and Nissen both appealed their convictions, and their cases have gone to review. In September 2007, Nissen recanted his testimony against Lotter. He claims that he was the only one to shoot Teena and that Lotter was not involved. Lotter is currently appealing and is using Nissen's new testimony to assert his claims of innocence.[10]


Because Teena had neither commenced hormone replacement therapy nor had sex reassignment surgery, he has sometimes been identified as a lesbian by media reporters.[11] However, some reported that Teena had stated that he planned to have sex reassignment surgery.[12]

JoAnn Brandon sued Richardson County and Laux for failing to prevent Teena's death, as well as being an indirect cause. She won the case, and was awarded $80,000. District court judge Orville Coady reduced the amount by 85 percent based on the responsibility of Nissen and Lotter, and by one percent for JoAnn's alleged contributory negligence. This led to a remaining judgment of responsibility against Richardson County and Laux of $17,360.97.[13] In 2001, the Nebraska Supreme Court reversed the reductions of the earlier award reinstating the full $80,000 award for "mental suffering", plus $6,223.20 for funeral costs. In October 2001, the same judge awarded the plaintiff an additional $12,000: $5,000 for wrongful death, and $7,000 for the intentional infliction of emotional distress.[13][14] Laux was also criticized after the murder for his attitude — at one point Laux referred to Teena as "it".[15]

In 1999, Teena became the subject of a biopic entitled Boys Don't Cry, starring Hilary Swank as Teena and Chloë Sevigny as Tisdel. For their performances, Swank won, and Sevigny was nominated for an Academy Award. Tisdel sued the producers of the film for unauthorized use of her name and likeness before the film's release. She claimed the film depicted her as "lazy, white trash, and a skanky snake". Tisdel also claimed that the film falsely portrayed that she continued the relationship with Teena after she discovered Teena was not anatomically male. She eventually settled her lawsuit against the movie's distributor for an undisclosed sum.[7][8] In addition to the film, the British duo Pet Shop Boys released a song called "Girls Don't Cry" (a bonus track on UK issue of I'm with Stupid) about Teena in 2006.

Teena's violent death, along with the murder of Matthew Shepherd, led to increased lobbying for hate crime laws in the United States.

See also


  1. Note: - as Brandon Teena was never his legal name, it is uncertain the extent to which this name was used prior to his death. It is the name most commonly used by the press and other media. Other names may include his legal name, as well as "Billy Brenson" and "Teena Ray"
  2. U.S. 8th Circuit Court of Appeals — JoAnn Brandon v Charles B. Laux. FindLaw. Retrieved on 2006-12-07.
  3. Howey, Noelle (2000-03-22). Boys Do Cry. Mother Jones. Retrieved on 2006-12-07.
  4. The Brandon Teena Story. Internet Movie Database. Retrieved on 2006-12-07.
  5. "Teena R. "Brandon Teena" Brandon", Find A Grave, August 28 2000. Retrieved on 2007-05-14. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 Ramsland, Katherine. Teena Brandon. TruTV. Retrieved on 2009-02-22.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Brandon film lawsuit settled", Chicago Sun-Times, 2000-03-11. Retrieved on 2009-02-22. Archived from the original on 2007-10-16. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Hawker, Philippa (2002-03-01). Seeing doubles. The Age. Retrieved on 2009-02-22.
  9. Ramsland, Katherine. Teena Brandon pg 5. TruTV. Retrieved on 2009-02-22.
  10. Jenkins, Nate. "Inmate Recants Teena Brandon Story", Associated Press, 2007-09-20. Retrieved on 2007-09-20. 
  11. Brandon Teena Gets Dunne Wrong. Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (January 24, 1997). Retrieved on 2006-12-07. â€œA New Yorker writer does not understand Brandon Teena's transgender identity, and describes him as a "predatory" butch lesbian, referring to him as "her" for most of the piece.”
  12. Griffy, Anna M. (July 4, 2004). The Brandon Teena Story: Chapter 2: Brandon. The Brandon Teena Story 2. ustice Junction. Retrieved on 2006-12-07. â€œTeena made her decision for good: she was going to live as a man and began to tell people she was having a sex change operation.”
  13. 13.0 13.1 Friedman, Herbert J.. Brandon - An American Tragedy. Archived from the original on 2007-10-10. Retrieved on 2009-02-22.
  14. The victims of prejudice, BBC News, 26 December, 2003
  15. Gabriel, Davina Anne (May 15, 1996). Activists Protest Violence As Lotter Trial Begins. Retrieved on 2006-12-07. â€œLaux has also been quoted as saying "you can call it 'it' as far as I'm concerned" when describing Brandon.”

External links


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