A look at Doug Greco’s new book, To Find a Killer, a book that intimately details and frames the hate-fueled murder of a mother and daughter inside the intersectionality of race, class, and sexuality in America…
by Max Langert
There’s a sensationalistic true-crime feel to the cover of Doug Greco’s new book To Find a Killer, which starts out with the gruesome detailing of the murder of one of his former students and her mother a decade ago.
The crime is gripping and tragic, a mix of passion, prejudice, and ignorant hatred which end up ruining the lives of two families who were already facing long odds and difficult situations. It is the kind of crime which happens all too often, and generally without a lot of media attention (27 anti-LGBT murders happened the same year). However, the seeds of the murders and the reasons behind them seem more prevalent today than ever. In fact, by 2021, the number of murders of transgender and gender non-conforming people rose to at least 57 in this country.
While the primary premise of Greco’s book is to focus on one terrible, homophobic murder, underlying the book is a series of essays and arguments on the progress of LGBT rights and how these rights can and should continue to evolve and expand. The book makes a strong case for continuing to fight for these rights and to evolve with the growing definition of underserved and marginalized communities.
I was struck by the fact that the title of the book mentions LGBT rights, rather than LGBTQ or LGBTQIA+, acronyms that are more prevalent in news articles today. The terms of inclusivity are changing as our culture changes, as anyone following social media will know. Essays like the ones in this book are helpful to understand the breadth of the landscape. I had wondered if the shorter acronyms were somehow less inclusive than the more recent, longer terms, while in actuality they appear to be interchangeable and up to the comfort level of the author. As someone who is still learning about the history of the movement, I could have used an additional discussion about the history of these labels as well.
There are echoes of classic works in this text. Doug Greco is in good company with his approach and format. Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment starts with a brutal crime and ends with the aftereffects and ramifications within society. Similarly, Richard Wright’s Native Son gives us the harrowing details of a crime which is then followed by the inner workings of the criminal justice system and how a marginalized member of society is treated in the law’s eyes. Greco’s 134-page book could easily be classified as a treatise as it categorizes and outlines a comprehensive collection of arguments on a subject.
The author follows a logical and broadening pathway as he frames the murders inside the intersectionality of race, class, and sexuality in Chapter Two, then discusses how these rights fit under the broader umbrella of human rights in Chapter Three. Through his detailed writing and referenced texts, Greco convincingly lays out the complex path that LGBT rights have taken. Referencing various votes proposed inside the UN and by groups like Amnesty International, he shows there’s been a real push-pull to determine when and where LGBT rights are addressed. He then traces these discussions and evolving definitions through the 80s, 90s, and the aughts. It’s sometimes astounding to read how recently some of the objectors have won out. Greco writes that “The crucial moment for the United Nations happened in 2008 when for the first time it seriously discussed LGBT rights.” A resolution was made which garnered significant support across the globe, but the US was not a supporter, with President Bush citing the need to respect states’ rights instead.
What makes Greco’s work all the more powerful are his experiences working on the ground as a community organizer to try and impact change. He writes of a job after grad school where his “primary project aimed at reducing healthcare disparities for LGBT undocumented immigrants in the Central Valley, which is much poorer, more rural, and more conservative than California’s coastal areas.”
He says, unsurprisingly, that there were no easy solutions in this situation, but that “grappling with these issues in the Central Valley with all these stakeholders helped me understand intersectionality better than any book I’ve ever read.”
Greco’s expertise and interactions with communities on the ground lends heft and significance to his arguments and approach.
In Chapter Four he talks about the importance of developing a strategy for leadership within the LGBT rights movement. In Chapter Five he references lessons from important leaders who’ve changed history: Jose Sarria, Craig Rodwell, and Harvey Milk.
Finally, in Chapter Six, Greco circles back to the original murders and walks through what’s happened in the movement since then — for good and for bad — and touches on some of the changes that have been taken up by the culture, including the influential “It Gets Better” discourse. His impassioned and thoughtful prose bring hope for the future, though anyone reading this book will know that every step forward is often shaded by another step back. As he sums up in the final paragraph, if we don’t stay vigilant and active, “it can happen again.”
Greco makes the case that what happened in Austin’s Dove Springs neighborhood a decade ago is a microcosm of wider issues of intersectionality and prejudice that continue to exist today. As an effective community organizer and leader, he’s able to reflect on recent LGBT struggles and successes, convincingly arguing for a path forward in a way that resonates even more in these chaotic times.
Max Langert, a proud member of the vibrant Austin theater scene, is a critically acclaimed playwright and writer. His works have been seen by audiences across the country, including Los Angeles, Boston, Chicago and New York. Critics have alternately dubbed his plays “hilarious,” “clever,” “wrenching,” and “brave.” He’s also a storyteller whose stories have been heard at The Moth, Listen to Your Mother, Testify, and Austin Bat Cave. He’s produced benefit shows for The Autism Society of Central Texas, The SAFE Alliance, and VELA Families of Austin.