Activists Demand Justice as Violence Against Trans Community in Mexico Goes Unchecked

Photo: Archivo Cuartoscuro via La Capital

Traffic stops for trans women every day on Insurgentes, one of Mexico City’s main thoroughfares. The avenue is one of the city’s most popular destinations for sex workers — the legal commerce is a constant, visible presence in many parts of the capital. But on the morning of October 4, the group of angry trans women blocking the road were off the clock and seeking justice.

A coffin sat parallel across multiple lanes of traffic. It contained the body of Paola, who had been gunned down on September 30 near that very intersection by an off duty security guard who presented himself as her prospective client, then shot her through the heart as she sat in his car’s passenger seat.

Though the murder had taken place some 30 meters away from Paola’s comadres, though they had taken cell phone videos at their own peril, though the police arrived while Arturo Delgadillo was still in the car with Paola’s corpse, Judge Gilberto Cervantes Hernández released the murder suspect on his own recognizance after only 48 hours. The judge said there was not enough evidence to hold Delgadillo.

Paola’s community rose up to demand answers, but her horrific death was only the beginning of a national wave of violence against trans women.

“When they let Paola’s murderer go, people knew they could kill us and go free.”

The day after their protest, a woman suffered non-fatal gunshot wounds on a dirt road outside of Cancún. On October 8, 19 year-old Itzel Durán was killed by two men who had broken into her home. On October 10, 33 year-old Ariel Armas Carvajal was fatally shot four times.

On October 11 in Chihuahua, 55 year-old Cheva Guerrero died, shot in front of her home in Chihuahua. 28 year-old Mexico City sex worker activist Alessa Méndez Flores was found strangled to death in a hotel on the morning of October 13. In the early hours of October 15, a still unidentified woman was found dead in the street in the Estado de México. Later that day, a woman was shot to death in a busy market in Acapulco.

According to Transgender Europe, 229 murders of transgendered people were reported between 2008 and 2014 in Mexico, making it the second deadliest country in the world for the trans community after Brazil.

But this fall’s violence was on another level. Many have little doubt as to why the violence has reached epidemic proportions.

This fall, bigotry gained new public traction in Mexico. On September 10, a coalition of Catholic organizations calling themselves the National Front for the Family kicked off a series of well-covered marches in over 100 Mexican cities that called for a rollback of Mexico’s national same sex marriage guarantees and the defense of their reactionary concept of “natural family.”

Thousands of Catholics and conservatives marched in September against the legalization of same-sex marriage in Guadalajara City. Photo: Reuters
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“When the media supports hate, it follows that more hate crimes take place,” says Sabrina Iparraguirre Andazabal, a 43 year-old trans woman who is a political activist and sex worker.

“When Paola’s death happened, the media released a wave of yellow journalism,” she tells Remezcla. “Their coverage wasn’t about a trans woman, and it wasn’t about a sex worker. It was about a man, a maricón.” Few outlets hesitated to publish transphobic headlines obliterating the identity of the trans women who had been killed.

Iparraguirre Andazabal says the lack of justice in Paola’s killing paved the way to Alessa’s death. “When they let Paola’s murderer go, people knew they could kill us and go free.”

“Trans people are the most vulnerable part of the LGBT community,” she says. “We’re the ones in the street doing the only job that this country of double standards allows us to have.”

“They make jokes out of our deaths,” says Gloria Virginia Davenport, a Mexico City activist, journalist and public health educator in an interview with Remezcla. For her, national press coverage has followed the “They do it constantly.”

Photo by Juan Vázquez for Animal Politico
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Davenport, who is active in the feminist group Las Constituyentes, says that the solution lies in holding the government accountable for enforcing the law, responding to citizens’ denouncements of transphobia and making sure that safe, well-paying employment is accessible to the trans community.

“This has to do with Mexican structural machismo,” says Davenport, who highlighted the irony behind the wave of violence in a city whose mayor announced its new “LGBT friendly” designation just last year.

Davenport connects the violence against trans women with similar acts that take place against cis women and effeminate queer men. “For machismo to function, it has to exert pressure against someone. It looks for the slightest pretext to assault and eliminate the feminine.”

The federal government has been slow to respond to the wave of killings — indeed, despite announcing his support for gay marriage this spring, President Enrique Peña Nieto has yet to denounce any violence against the LGBT community save for a tweet during the aftermath of the Pulse Orlando shooting.

Mexico City’s Council to Prevent and Eliminate Discrimination (COPRED) met with trans activists on October 14. It has since announced that it will be holding sexual diversity trainings for members of the media, providing funds to those affected by violence, and petitioning for heightened law enforcement presence in the Buenavista neighborhood where Paola was murdered.

Only time will tell if these efforts will be realized, or if they will make a difference in what many see as a frightening manifestation of national prejudice. “These acts we’re talking about are not just forms of violence,” says Davenport. “They’re phobias.”