By: Mariam Abdo, Cristina Ortiz, and Tiffany Spillman.
Sylvia Guerrero is the mother to Gwen Araujo, a murdered transgender youth, whose brutal death sparked attention within the transgender community and beyond. Since Gwen’s death, Guerrero has continued to make known the suffering transgender people go through and what can be done to help them.
“He said he felt so abnormal, like a freak,” says his mother, Sylvia Guerrero. “He didn’t just wake up one morning and decide he wanted to look like a girl. I’ve always known that. But I didn’t care. I told him, ‘Whether you’re a man or a woman I’m going to love you.’ ” (USAToday)
Gwen “Amber Rose” Araujo was a teenage girl. She was born as Edward “Eddie” Araujo, but identified as a female so she changed her name to Gwen. Gwen underwent hormone therapy in high school. At first, she was not accepted as who she knew she was. She had left school because she was a victim of bullying. Her family had a hard time coming to the realization that Eddie was really Gwen. They eventually came around, but the rest of the world obviously didn’t. Most didn’t know that Gwen was biologically male, and wouldn’t know until her death.
Gwen was brutally murdered at the age of seventeen on October 3, 2002. The night Araujo was murdered, she had attended a party at the house of Jose Merel. The police reports had said that four teenagers were involved with Araujo’s attack: Jose Merel, Jaron Nabors, Michael Magidson, and Jason Casarez. Her last words when she was beaten to death were, “please dont, I have a family.” During the trial, Nabors had testified that Araujo had consensual sex with few of the men before they had found out that she was biologically male.
When they had found out that Gwen was biologically male, she was beaten and strangled to death. The men wrapped Gwen in a blanket and buried her in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The first criminal trial that was had for Gwen’s murder resulted in a mistrial. The defense attorneys claimed that the defendants “panicked” after learning that Gwen was transgender. They based their arguments on transgender women stereotypes and framed those arguments to use the societal bias there is against transgender people.
The tragic death of Gwen Araujo had brought awareness to the violence against transgender people and the “panic defense.” In 2006, California had made the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act. That law had allowed judges to instruct jurors not to consider their anti-LGBT biases before making a decision. The Office of Emergency Services would also develop ways for how city and county prosecutors could explain how to prevent such biases from affecting the results of a trial.
That same year, Lifetime had aired an original movie, “A Girl Like Me: The Gwen Araujo Story”. The movie showed her life from when she was a young child to her murder trial.
Gwen’s ashes are in a wooden urn in her mother’s home. On the urn there is the quote: “Fly free, our beautiful butterfly angel”.
Gwen’s death took a heavy toll on her mother Sylvia Guerrero. Guerrero was a former legal assistant who went on disability when her daughter was found in a shallow grave. She struggled to put her life together. She had lost her job, was evicted from her home, and the disability payments she was receiving stopped. Since Gwen’s death, Guerrero has been active in transgender activists protests.
Sylvia Guerrero Speaking at UNCW for the Transgeneration Program:
Many people had connected this case to the Matthew Shepard case. Matthew was a student at Wyoming University who was beaten, tortured, and left to die on October 6,1998 and he had died 6 days later at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado. Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson had beaten Matthew to death. They had pistol whipped him with a gun then tied him to a fence in the cold to die.He was found 18 hours later by a cyclist who thought Matthew was a scarecrow. The two men were convicted with first degree murder and given life sentences, but they were not charged with a hate crime (seeing how it wasn’t possible under Wyoming’s criminal law). In 2009, President Obama had signed the Matthew Shepard act, a law which defined certain attacks motivated by the victim identify as hate crimes. The horrific death of Matthew Shepard is seen as the worst anti-gay crime in American history; and although his death was very tragic and devastating, it also did many good things to the gay community. Also, many politicians and celebrities have pledged to support and fund anti-gay crime. Their brutal, inhumane attacks had brought attention to the world. It had shed some light in our community and because of Gwen and Matthew we now have laws that will protect the rights of gay/transgender people.
The Laramie Project was a play created by the Tectonic Theatre Company in the aftermath of Matthew Shepard’s 1998 murder. The Laramie Project has toured the US and many other countries, telling Matthew’s story. It is often used as a method to teach about prejudice in social and health education in schools. The play has in a way played an important role in the campaign to end homophobia. It serves as a panelist for related community-wide discussions on how to create a more civil and compassionate society.
Transgender Day of Remembrance if an annual event held on November 20th across all nations as a means to memorialize those who have passed due to anti-transgender hatred and prejudice. Transgender Day of Remembrance began with “Remembering The Dead”, a web project created by Gwendolyn Ann Smith in 1999. The day sparked influence with a candle vigil held in San Francisco, memorializing Rita Hester, an African American transgender woman who was murdered on November 28, 1998.
Her website, “Remembering The Dead”, catalogues transgender people who have passed under the influence of outside prejudice, violence, and anti-transgender bigotry. This day is conventional for the transgender community for a multitude of reasons. The website, which explains Transgender Day of Remembrance in full, holds a catalogue for every life lost which wouldn’t be otherwise covered by the mass media. This Day of Remembrance honors the lives lost in spite of hate, and allows cis-allies to stand with and for transgender people all across the world, giving them a voice otherwise smothered or silences by those who don’t “understand” transsexuality. Transgender Day of Remembrance helps bring awareness that anti-transgender fueled violence exists, and in large numbers.
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