On This Gay Day: Brandon Teena was brutally murdered

Brandon Teena

The life story of Brandon Teena was told in the award winning 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry. His death is seen as a critical event that led to the introduction of hate crime legislation in the USA.

Content Warning: This story contains details of sexual assault, violence and transphobia.

On this day in 1993 transgender man Brandon Teena was murdered by gunshot in Humbroldt, Nebraska. Chillingly, Brandon had previously filed a police report of his assault and rape by the soon-to-be murderers, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen.

Brandon was born December 121972, in Lincoln, Nebraska. Brandon identified as a boy from early childhood. The 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry was based on Brandon’s life story.

Brandon’s father died eight months before he was born. Brandon lived with a grandmother until he was three and thereafter he lived with his mother. As an adolescent, Brandon began publicly identifying as being male, and by 18 he was dressing masculine and dating girls. At 19, Brendan had counseling for the sexual abuse he suffered as a young child from an uncle.

In 1992, a psychiatric evaluation described Brandon as suffering from a “sexual identity crisis” and Brandon attended a Lancaster Crisis Centre because it was feared he was suicidal.  In 1993, Brandon fled Lincoln for the Falls City Region of Richardson County, Nebraska.  He lived with Lisa Lambert and dated her friend Lana Tisdel.  He also met the two men who would murder him, Lotter and Nissen.

Brandon Teena was arrested for forging checks on December 19th, 1993.  He was jailed in the female section of the lock up and so Tisdel discovered he was anatomically female.  After a Christmas Eve party, Lotter and Nissen assaulted and raped Brandon, who escaped.

Brandon was persuaded by Tisdel to go to emergency and report to the police, however the standard rape kit that was assembled in emergency was later lost.  The police questioning was done by Sheriff, Charles Laux who was inappropriate, asking irrelevant questions about Brandon’s gender rather than addressing the need for measures to ensure his subsequent physical safety. Although Nissen and Lotter were questioned three days later, they were not arrested.

And so, horrifically, around 1am on December 31, 1993, Lotter and Nissen broke in to Lambert’s house and shot the three adults there, Brandon, Lambert and Phillip DeVine (who was dating Tisdel’s sister). Lambert’s toddler, though unharmed, was witness to the murderers.

Lotter and Nissen remain in prison

By Nissen’s testimony, Lotter received the death penalty. Nissen was sentenced to life in prison, but later recanted his testimony saying he was responsible for the murders.

Lotter remains on death row having been denied an appeal by the US Supreme Court on multiple occasions.

In July 2022 the Nebraska Supreme Court denied an appeal from Lotter. His lawyers argued that a 2015 bill which removed the death penalty from Nebraska’s laws would have had the effect of commuting his sentence to life imprisonment. The law was later repealed by a public vote.

His lawyers also argued that he had a low IQ which would make him ineligible for the death penalty. The court rejected both appeals on procedural grounds saying they were not within the required 5-year limit for raising concerns.

Aside from being the focus of the film Boys Don’t Cry, Brandon Teena is also remembered in a song by Pet Shop Boys called Girl’s Don’t Cry.

OIP Staff, this post was first published in 2020 and has been updated. 

Do you need some support?

If you are struggling with anxiety or depression, support and counselling are available from:

QLife: 1800 184 527 / qlife.org.au (Webchat 3pm – midnight)
QLife are a counselling and referral service for LGBTQIA+ people.

DISCHARGED[email protected]discharged.org.au
Discharged is a trans-led support service with peer support groups for trans and gender diverse folks.

Lifeline: 13 11 14 / lifeline.org.au

Beyondblue: 1300 22 4636 / www.beyondblue.org.au

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