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Teen a Victim of Transgender Violence

October 24, 2002

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SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ Eddie ``Gwen″ Araujo was a good-looking girl _ so good, it cost him his life.

The 17-year-old with high cheekbones and soft, pretty eyes never came home from a house party earlier this month. Instead, Araujo was allegedly beaten and strangled by three enraged men who discovered she was a he. The defendants were being held without bail and were expected back in court Thursday.

While saddened by the killing, members of the transgender community aren’t surprised. They say stories of assaults, mutilations and murders have become so common, new crimes are almost expected.

``I hear so much of it, it makes me sick,″ said Theresa Sparks, a transgender commissioner on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. ``All of these are young people.″

Araujo, who identified as a girl, left for the Oct. 3 party from his hometown of Newark, a San Francisco Bay area suburb, dressed in flip flops and a denim skirt and going by the name ``Lida.″ He took a change of pants so it would be easier to conceal his true sex when he got drunk, according to court documents.

That plan failed after a girl at the party returned from the bathroom and said ``It’s a man,″ the documents show.

The three men then allegedly attacked Araujo and dragged the teen _ half conscious _ into the garage where police believe they strangled him with a rope until he was presumed dead. His body was found buried in a shallow grave in the Sierra wilderness two weeks later, his wrists and ankles bound.

Sylvia Guerrero said her child will be buried in makeup and women’s clothes and ``Gwen″ will be engraved on the headstone _ Araujo chose the name because he liked singer Gwen Stefani of the band No Doubt.

``He was born this way. He always felt like a girl,″ she told a crowd of about 100 at a vigil last week following the news of his death. ``Eddie was different, and people were mean to him.

``But he was my baby. He was my son. I loved him unconditionally,″ she said. ``When you see someone like Eddie, smile at him.″

Michael William Magidson, 22, of Fremont, and Jaron Chase Nabors, 19, and Jose Antonio Merel, 22, both of Newark, face murder charges with a hate-crime enhancement that carries up to an additional four years in prison. They have not yet entered pleas.

According to police reports, Magidson said he tied a rope around Araujo’s neck, hands and feet before wrapping him in a blanket and helping to bury the body in a remote area near Lake Tahoe.

Nabors told police he was not involved in the death but admitted to going with Magidson and Merel ``to dump the victim’s body,″ while Merel has denied any responsibility, according to police reports.

In a study conducted by the Gender Public Advocacy Coalition about five years ago, two-thirds of transgender respondents said they had been physically or sexually assaulted, said executive director Riki Wilchins.

Gwen Smith started tracking transgender deaths in 1998 as part of the Remembering Our Dead Project and said many of the slayings share the same details. On average, about one transgender murder is reported in the United States each month, she said.

``I think the No. 1 thing that people need to get is that we’re human and we have a right to live,″ she said. ``So often, we’re reduced to a thing. One of the more famous cases is that of Brandon Teena, when one of the police officers questioned said, ’You can call Brandon ``it″ for all I’m concerned.‴

Smith said Araujo’s slaying is eerily similar to that 1993 Nebraska death, which was portrayed in the movie ``Boys Don’t Cry.″ Brandon Teena was the name used by Teena Brandon, a 21-year-old woman who was raped and shot to death by two men who discovered she was not a man.

The pair, John Lotter and Marvin Nissen, also killed two people who witnessed the slaying. Lotter is on death row; Nissen is serving a life sentence.

The killing is also reminiscent of the bludgeoning death of 16-year-old Fred C. Martinez Jr. last year in Colorado. The Navajo boy, who often wore makeup and carried a purse, was ``two-spirited,″ meaning he felt he was a girl in a boy’s body.

Unfortunately, Sparks said it takes those high-profile killings to educate people about what it means to be transgender. She said it’s confusing for gay and straight people alike because it’s about gender identification, not sexual orientation. The term transgender describes a wide range of identities including cross-dressers, transvestites, transsexuals and those born with the physical characteristics of both sexes.

``One of our focuses will have to be more visibility,″ Sparks said. ``That seems to be a way to get rid of the perceptions that we’re sexual deviants or perverts.″


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