Murders of Trans People in Puerto Rico Go Unrecorded
According to Sophia Isabel Marro Cruz, the spokeswoman for Transexuales y Transgeneros en Marcha (Transexuals and Transgenders On The Move):
“None of these cases have been considered by the State as hate crimes despite offenders even admitting that their motivation was the ‘homosexual panic’. This shows an extreme level of homophobia and transphobia.”
‘Homosexual panic’ is an acute, brief reactive psychosis suffered by the target of unwanted homosexual advances. It has been used legally by those defending a person charged with murder.
In 1995, one of the highest-profile cases to make use of the gay panic defense was the Michigan trial of Jonathan Schmitz, who killed his friend Scott Amedure after learning, during a taping of The Jenny Jones Show, that Amedure was sexually attracted to him. Schmitz confessed to committing the crime but claimed that Amedure’s homosexual overtures angered and humiliated him.
It was also attempted by the murderers of Matthew Sheppard in Wyoming in 1998.
A transgender variation of the gay panic defense was also used in 2004–2005 in California by the three defendants in the Gwen Araujo homicide case, who claimed that they were enraged by the discovery that Araujo, a transgender teenager with whom they had engaged in sex, had male genitalia. The first trial resulted in a jury deadlock; in the second, defendants Mike Magidson and Jose Merél were convicted of second-degree murder, while the jury again deadlocked in the case of Jason Cazares. Cazares later entered a plea of no contest to charges of voluntary manslaughter.
Cruz says that websites documenting murders of transgender people only list one during 2011, but her organization knows of six, possibly seven.
“The most notorious was Karlota, a 19 year old who was murdered on gay pride day in Santurce. But that isn’t the only murder here. We know of one young woman who was murdered in Ponce in September. Two more were shot and then run over in the south near that same time. Another was shot in a fight while trying to help another woman. The last one was beaten until she died. We even think there’s another one from Manatí, in the northern part of the island, but we cannot confirm it yet.”
The attacks come amid growing fundamentalist rhetoric on the island. Gay and transgender people say it has become socially acceptable to despise them.
“You have religious and political leaders saying: ‘Gays don’t matter; they are the devil and twisted,’” said Pedro Julio Serrano, the communications manager for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
“That’s inciting violence. We have not seen anything like this here since the 1980s.”
Activists say that the government has failed to implement anti-discrimination policy and remains largely mute on the disturbing trend.
Latino Commission on AIDS organizer Yanira Arias, said:
“Transgender women are fighting for their lives in Puerto Rico. It’s unconscionable that the national and state justice systems are not doing more to protect them and document these beatings and murders as hate-crimes, we are talking about human beings, which today continue to be the most marginalized and violated when it comes the full respect of human and civil rights.”
Dr. Elba Diaz, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, said:
“Many people here are trying to reduce LGBTT health disparities, but the lack of consistent acknowledgement or data from federal agencies makes our local social justice and health goals that much more difficult to achieve.”
Puerto Rico has had a hate crime law since 2002 covering crimes based on sexual orientation or gender identity, but activists say that authorities are not using it.
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