Remembering Slain Transgender Teen Gwen Araujo

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Pearl and Gwen, sisters

Gwen Araujo is a hero not many people know. She wasn't a politician or a lawyer -- she wasn't even an activist, but her death changed many laws and many lives in the transgender community.

Araujo was born a healthy baby boy named Edward Araujo Jr., but Araujo never felt like a boy. Sylvia Guerrero, Araujo's mother, said before Araujo was born that she dreamed she had a daughter and preemptively named her Amber Rose.

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Guerrero said that from an early age, she knew that her child was different, and from kindergarten through high school, she watched her child be teased, bullied, harassed, and treated very differently than other children. Guerrero spent a lot of time in the principal's office, fighting for and defending her child on several occasions.

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Sylvia Guerrero
People called her child names, even in front of her. "It never mattered how many hugs or kisses I could heap up on Gwen, I knew it did not make up for all the ugliness she experienced in this world."

In 1999, a very brave Araujo confessed to her mother, that while she was born a boy, she did not identify as one. She told her mom how she felt "like a freak" and did not understand why she was born a boy. Araujo then decided, that she no longer wanted to be called Eddie. After several girl names she decided on Gwen, after her idol Gwen Stefani.

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Gwen Araujo
She wanted to be referred to as Gwen and as a girl, the gender she felt she was. Sylvia wholly accepted her child, body and soul. She supported and loved her through her transition from Eddie to Gwen. But no matter how much love she and her other three children lavished upon Gwen, her daughter continued to be in pain because so much of their community did not accept her.

During Gwen's transition, Guerrero and her family went to their family church and the reception to Gwen was far from loving. So Guerrero and her entire family walked out because they did not want Gwen to feel ostracized. Guerrero is a deeply religious woman, and it hurt that her church of all places would discriminate against her daughter and family.

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Sylvia Guerrero with Gwen's Urn
When Gwen entered high school, school administrators would not allow her to use the girl's restroom, and boys bullied her and threatened her on a daily basis. Gwen reluctantly stopped attending school because of the abuse. "The high school threatened that they would find Gwen a truant and fine me. As a parent I was frustrated and I had no support," says Guerrero.

Guerrero watched her child turn to drugs and alcohol due to the despair and depression she was facing on a regular basis. By the time Gwen was 17, she had transitioned into a knockout and the attention she received from boys was very noticeable.

A few months before Gwen's murder, she was with friends, and a so-called female friend outed Gwen to a man who was clearly interested in her. Upon finding out that Gwen had male genitalia, he cracked a beer bottle and jabbed Gwen in the stomach with it.

Guerrero was called and immediately rushed to pick up her daughter. Guerrero was understandably upset and began to ask Araujo if she understood just how scared she was for her. Guerrero knew the world was an ugly place and she feared that one day, something insidious would happen to her daughter because she was transgender and identified as female.

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RachelPugh13
RachelPugh13

@janetmock @VanessaLPinto A lot of men are secretly drawn to transsexuals. They are in a closet of their own. But the pressure is on.

VanessaLPinto
VanessaLPinto

@janetmock This was a story that has moved me for 10 years, and I am proud to have been able to honor Gwen in some small way :)

palacinky
palacinky

Vanessa, I disagree with your description of the murder and how it came about. Gwen wasn't even on hormones, didn't have any breast growth nor (as I understand it) did she have a completely "passable" voice. In other words, as usually happens in these murders, the men having sex with the trans woman know she's trans (or have an extremely strong suspicion) and it's only post-coital that they feel extreme shame, and their homophobia and transphobia takes over. That's when they murder the trans woman, not when they 'discover' her genitalia.

 

In this case, the violence started when Nicole Brown, one of the murderer's girlfriend (who shamefully has never been charged as an accessory in this crime) announced to everyone that Gwen "is a man" after forcibly examining Gwen's gentals. The men were now "outed" that they had sex with a trans woman. Your discussion of it feeds way too much into the standard trope put forward by "trans panic."

 

It also needs to be said that many hundreds of trans women (most of them young women of color) have been murdered in the 10 years since Gwen's death, much of them unsolved often due to a lack of motivation by police. Tragic as Gwen's murder was, to discuss Gwen's death as though it's something unique is to make all those other hundreds of deaths invisible. Where is the national outcry at the outrageous rate of murder against trans women, the highest murder rate against any group? And more importantly, where are the social, health and educational services both in the school systems and local, state and federal government which will assure the safety of this incredibly marginalized population? 

 

In this case, the violence started when Nicole Brown, one of the murderer's girlfriend (who shamefully has never been charged as an accessory in this crime) announced to everyone that Gwen "is a man" after forcibly examining Gwen's gentals. The men were now "outed" that they had sex with a trans woman. Your discussion of it feeds way too much into the standard trope put forward by "trans panic."

 

It also needs to be said that many hundreds of trans women (most of them women of color) have been murdered in the 10 years since Gwen's death, many of them unsolved (often due to a lack of motivation by police). Tragic as Gwen's murder was, to discuss Gwen's death as though it's something unique is to make all those other hundreds of deaths invisible. Where is the national outcry at the outrageous rate of murder against trans women, the highest murder rate against any group? And more importantly, where are the social, health and educational services both in the school systems and local, state and federal government which will assure the safety of this incredibly marginalized population? 

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