On This Gay Day: Brandon Teena was brutally murdered

Brandon Teena’s life story was told in the award winning 1999 film Boys Don’t Cry. His death is seen as a critical event that lead 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 12th, 1972 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 cross dressing regularly 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 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.

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.

Aside from being the focus of the film Boy’s 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. 

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