TV & Radio
Transgender community feels joy, anger at Araujo verdict
- Wyatt Buchanan, SF Chronicle Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005
The Bay Area's transgender community was both heartened and disappointed with the verdicts in the Gwen Araujo murder trial Monday, praising the jury for delivering justice but wishing all three defendants had been found guilty of murder and a hate crime.
Leaders in the community said the jury's rejection of a "transgender panic" defense -- in which Araujo's gender identity absolved the men of some guilt in the crime -- represented significant progress.
"It sends a message that you can no longer blame the victim for what happened," said Cecilia Chung, deputy director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco. "You can't blame a transgender person for being who she or he is."
The Araujo case has prompted public discourse about the transgender community and transgender issues.
Several thousand students in Bay Area schools have heard Araujo's mother speak about her daughter since the 2002 killing, and the case has received coverage in national and Bay Area media outlets, several of which developed policies on the use of pronouns and names in describing transgender people. The Chronicle, for example, now uses pronouns and names that are preferred by transgender individuals who have the physical attributes of the opposite sex.
Major Spanish-language outlets covered the case more than they had any previous crime with an LGBT victim, said Monica Taher, people of color media director for the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.
"This was a huge story at the local and national level," Taher said. "Every time there was an update from the court, the (Spanish-language) media was there covering. I didn't see that with the Matthew Shepard case."
With support from a fund set up in memory of Araujo at the Horizons Foundation, Araujo's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, spoke to more than 20 schools and shared her story with students, teachers and school administrators.
"Sylvia changed people's minds," said Carolyn Laub, executive director of the Gay Straight Alliance Network, which coordinated Guerrero's speaking tour. "She changed their hearts about transgender and gay, lesbian and bisexual people. Her pain and her family's pain in this tragedy were able to spread a message about love and acceptance."
But even with the impact made by the Araujo case, members of the community, who held a press conference in front of an altar made for Araujo in the lobby of the Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Center Monday, said the verdicts gave only partial justice.
Thom Lynch, who heads the center, said he was left with the feeling that some lives are worth more than others.
"If this is not a crime of hate, I don't know what is," Lynch said.
Araujo's uncle David Guerrero, who attended the press conference, said the family would persevere through another trial and that "we've gotten the strength from her to go through this."
"I'm very proud of Gwen that she lived the life she lived," Guerrero said. "She wasn't afraid to live out of the closet and be who she was."
Gwen Smith, founder of Transgender Day of Remembrance and the Web site Rememberingourdead.org, which tracks the killing of transgender individuals, said Araujo's case was a wake-up call to the Bay Area that such crimes happen here. She said she was partially satisfied by the verdict.
"We don't have all we want today, but we've seen change, and damn it, we need to make more," Smith said.
Since Araujo's killing, four other transgender people have been slain in the Bay Area, but the cases remain unsolved, according to the Transgender Law Center.
"We would like to see justice and closure to these four cases in our own backyard," said Chung of the Transgender Law Center.
E-mail Wyatt Buchanan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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2 Guilty of Killing Transgender Teen
The men bludgeoned and choked Gwen Araujo after accusing her of deceiving them about her biological identification.
By John M. Glionna
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
September 13, 2005
A Bay Area jury on Monday convicted two men of second-degree murder for killing transgender teenager Gwen Araujo at a party in October 2002 after they accused the 17-year-old of deceiving them into believing she was biologically female.
Michael Magidson and Jose Merel, both 25, face mandatory sentences of 15 years to life in prison, but were cleared of hate-crime charges in the killing.
Alameda County Superior Court Judge Harry R. Sheppard declared a mistrial for a third man, Jason Cazares, after the jury announced it was deadlocked — the second time a jury was unable to reach a verdict involving the 25-year-old.
Jaron Nabors, a fourth defendant who was also present the night Araujo died, previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter in exchange for testifying against the others.
When the verdicts were read about 3 p.m., Araujo's 22-year-old sister sobbed, said the victim's mother, Sylvia Guerrero, who squeezed her daughter's hand.
"I was a little surprised, but I felt good," she said later. "Two second-degree murder convictions, what more can you ask for? Nothing is going to bring Gwen back."
Attorneys for the three defendants could not be reached Monday.
But transgender advocates hailed Monday's verdicts. "This is a huge step in finding closure for the family and friends of Gwen Araujo," said Christopher Daley, director of the Transgender Law Center in San Francisco. Others said the verdicts were unsatisfactory.
"Only some justice has been done," said Thom Lynch, executive director of the San Francisco Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center. "The idea that hate was not a factor and that one person still walks free is just unimaginable."
Lynch said the jury had an opportunity to send a message that this kind of activity would not be tolerated.
"Unfortunately," he said, "that message did not get sent."
In the early hours of Oct. 4, 2002, after a night of heavy drinking, Magidson, Cazares and Merel confronted Araujo about her true biological identification, according to court testimony. Magidson and Merel had previously had sex with the teen.
Araujo, who lived as a girl and assumed the name of her favorite pop singer, Gwen Stefani, was attacked inside a dingy tract house in Newark, on the southern end of San Francisco Bay.
The victim was kicked and beaten with a soup can and an iron skillet, bludgeoned with a shovel and choked with a rope. Just before dawn, the three suspects allegedly buried Araujo near a secluded campsite in the Sierra foothills before ordering breakfast at a nearby McDonald's.
The first trial of the men, who often called themselves "the Three Stooges," ended in 2003 with the jury deadlocked on the charges.
Since her death, Araujo has taken on symbolic status in California's transgender community. Both trials, held in suburban Hayward, were often attended by transgender activists, who circulated details via e-mails and websites.
The day after the first trial ended, Guerrero legally changed her deceased child's name from Edward Araujo Jr. to Gwen Amber Rose Araujo.
In the second trial, which began in June, Cazares testified that he was outside the house when the killing took place and only helped bury the body. Merel's attorney said he was not guilty of anything more than felony assault.
Alameda County Deputy Dist. Atty. Chris Lamiero said Monday that the jury — which deliberated for seven days — did not buy the arguments. "I think the jury, by returning two verdicts of guilty for murder, clearly rejected the defense that this was manslaughter. I'm very pleased with that," he said.
He said jurors were divided 9 to 3 for convicting Cazares as well: "It's disappointing not to have a unanimous verdict on him as well, but I know the jury tried to work out their differences."
Lamiero said he has not decided whether to retry Cazares. But if there is another trial, Guerrero said that she will be there.
"I'll sit through 20 retrials," she said. "That's how much we loved Gwen. I'll continue until there's justice."