Murder of Transgender Filipina Highlights Everyday Dangers of Asia’s Trans Community

The killing of a transgender woman named Jennifer Laude by Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton has rocked the small island nation of the Philippines. Pemberton, who was stationed in Olongapo, just north of the capital Manila, was identified by hotel staff after fleeing the scene of the murder.

By eyewitness accounts it is said that Pemberton met Laude in a nearby bar and flirted over drinks. Not long after, the two went to get a room in a nearby hotel. Hotel staff report seeing Pemberton walk out in the early hours of the morning, leaving the door to his hotel room ajar. When they went to the room they discovered Laude wrapped in a sheet, and drowned in the toilet. They also recovered two used condoms at the scene.

Pemberton returned to his ship where he confided in his shipmate Marine Lance Corporal Jairn Michael Rose that he choked the woman after discovering she was transgender. Rose quoted Pemberton as saying, “I think I killed a he/she.” However the evidence of condoms at the crime scene throws his claims of “not knowing” into question.

Pemberton was arrested with the cooperation of the U.S. Military and is now being tried in an Olongapo court room, where his lawyers entered a plea of not guilty on his behalf.

The case sheds light on an often occurring, but not often talked about reality that transgender women in Southeast Asia face. While most advocacy groups focus on HIV/AIDS related research (and for good reason), the unique dangers transgender women and transgender sex workers face are often swept under the rug.

One article, by RH Reality Check, highlights the dangers these women face both regionally and across the globe:

An ultra-nationalist group in Mongolia has beaten, abducted and raped transwomen, and has issued death threats, all because they consider these persons un-Mongolian. A Vietnamese woman was gang-raped, her case making news because her legal status (male) invalidated any rape charges against the perpetrators. In Bali, transwomen have been pursued, assaulted and humiliated by young men who have shaved the hair from their victims’ heads. In Turkey there has been a long series of incidents involving thugs beating transwomen on the streets, and police arbitrarily arresting, beating and humiliating transgender activists…Finally, across Indonesia, thugs have broken into meetings of transwomen and driven away the participants, chasing them into the streets, all on the grounds that they are un-Islamic.

Often these transwomen and transgender sex workers have limited legal recourse in their countries. Organized police violence and sexual assault against these women is common in many countries including Malaysia, Nepal and Cambodia.

The Asia-Pacific Network of Sex Workers has documented many of these abuses in their reports. They state that:

It is estimated that there are nearly 10 million transgender people in this region, many of who often endure stigma and prejudice every day of their lives… Marginalisation leaves transgender people more vulnerable to risky situations. For instance, they may feel the need to settle for romantic partners who may be abusive, or encourage unsafe behaviours…Moreover, extreme poverty may leave the transgender person with no choice but to seek work exchanging sex for money or necessities, thereby leaving them at dramatically increased risk for HIV infection, other STIs and violence.

If the case of Joseph Scott Pemberton and Jennifer Laude can teach us anything it is how dangerous life can be for transgender individuals, especially those from poverty stricken communities. And given the multi-billion dollar business of sex tourism in Southeast Asia it is an issue that local police and government officials can no longer sweep under the rug. Transgender women and sex workers in Southeast Asia must be given the same protection as everyday citizens, ensuring safe reporting, protection from police violence and access to shelter facilities. Barring that, we can only expect more cases, like that of 26-year-old Jennifer Laude, to continue appearing in the international news.


Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus4 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Roberto MARINI
Roberto MARINI4 years ago

Rape and sexual assault f any kind are horrendous

Fi T.
Past Member 4 years ago

Never any excuses to case of murder

Paulinha Russell
Paulinha Russell4 years ago

Thank you

Nikki Davey
Nikki Davey4 years ago

Rape and sexual assault charges should not be gender specific. It should be treated as a crime regardless.

Ernest R.
Ernest R4 years ago

@ pam w."Interesting that Thailand is the capitol of transgender surgeries. There are many STAGGERINGLY beautiful women there who were once in male bodies." So you've been there too ? I was approached by one self identified in broad daylight. Absolutely gorgeous but no connection.@ Sue L. "Can anybody else shed some light on whether this stat is right?" Probably. The Philippines has lots of them.@ Mike W. "I assume that this was consensual adult activity". Doubtful. Filipino preop-transgenders used to pretend to be women and during intercourse keep their penis concealed under their hand while using their anus. A cash customer discovering this might feel betrayed and cheated especially if from a culture where this was unexpected behavior. Obviously that happened in this case.

Jonathan Harper
Jonathan Harper4 years ago

not good

Debbi W.
Debbi -4 years ago

Too many killings have happened because some guy felt humiliated or embarrassed. If this is a cultural problem, it needs to addressed by everyone. You don't have to like everyone. If you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, walk away. Chances are no one else will know about it anyway.

Sharon S.
Sharon S4 years ago

The sexual deviant clearly is the marine.

Janet B.
Janet B4 years ago