An Oakland high school student is recovering but faces more surgery after his skirt was set on fire while he slept on an AC Transit bus this week.
Luke Fleischman, who identifies as genderqueer and goes by the name Sasha, was riding the 57 bus in Oakland Monday evening, returning from a class at Maybeck High School in Berkeley.
Media outlets are reporting that he will remain hospitalized for several weeks.
Fleischman, 18, does not identify as male or female but rather as nonbinary gender, according to his mother, Debbie, who refers to him using male pronouns.
“My son considers himself agender,” Debbie Fleischman told the Oakland Tribune. “He likes to wear a skirt. It’s his statement. That’s how he feels comfortable dressing.”
Fleischman is now in the burn unit at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco, and is suffering from second and third degree burns to the legs, which will require skin grafts. Doctors report the teen’s condition as stable.
The 16-year-old suspect, identified by media outlets as Richard Thomas, has been charged as an adult and was charged with a hate crime, according to SF Weekly.
Outrage among community members quickly turned to support, as Fleischman’s friends set up a donation page to help cover medical expenses, according to SF Weekly. The page took in $20,000 within 48 hours and has since been closed down.
Tiffany Woods with Tri-City Health Center in Fremont also serves as a liaison with the Oakland Police Department. She told the Bay Area Reporter that the family felt they had received enough in donations.
“Oakland PD has been proactive throughout,” Woods said. “They reached out to brief me about a possible community crime, and for guidance on language understanding around Sasha’s gender identity and expression. The quick response by Oakland PD in identifying and bringing into custody the perpetrator of this horrific act of violence against Luke Sasha Fleischman should be commended. They wanted the suspect off the street and in custody as soon as possible. Throughout the briefings they expressed how horrific they felt this crime was.”
Calls to the Oakland Police Department’s spokeswoman weren’t immediately returned.
Woods pointed out that Fleischman identifies as neither male nor female and prefers the pronoun “they” instead of “he” or “she.”
Woods, who is the transgender programs manager at the health center, offered a few thoughts on how incidents such as these can be prevented in the future.
“Transgender and non-conforming individuals routinely experience acts of violence against them for simply expressing their gender identity,” she said. “The recent horrific acts of violence in Oakland against a young gender non-conforming individual while riding a public bus, as well as the murder of Brandy Martell in 2012, are everyday reminders of how deadly and pervasive anti-transgender bias is.”
Woods urged respect for people.
“We need to teach compassion, empathy, and respect for everybody, regardless of gender identity, expression, sexual orientation, culture, religion, or disability,” she said. “Whatever someone might have an issue with, we need to respect those differences. It starts with parenting, schools, and communities. It takes everyone to create safe and respectful communities for all.”
Woods said that her thoughts and prayers were with Fleischman and the family during the recovery process.
People can donate money to St Francis Hospital Burn Center in Fleischman’s name:
St Francis Hospital Foundation, c/o burn center 900 Hyde Street, San Francisco, CA 94109
reported by David-Elijah Nahmod