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LA Transgenders Remember Gwen, Other Tragedies & Triumps of 2002-2003

by Carolina Thursday, Oct. 02, 2003 at 5:48 PM

As the October 3 one year anniversay of the brutal slaying of Bay Area Transgender teen Gwen Araujo is remembered, Los Angeles' large community can recall other tragedies, and triumphs of the past year.

This Friday, October 3, at the intersection of Highland and Santa Monica Boulevard, in the center Holywood's "Tranny Town", at 7:30 p.m., transgender activists from all over Southern California will gather to mourn the one year anniversay of the brutal slaying of Bay Area Transgender Gwen Araujo, and march for an end to terror against our community.

This date gives us occasion to review the positive and negative events in our Southern Cal community this past year.

In comparing the June 2001-June 2002 year to the one just past, 2002-2003, one has to be struck by the contrast: The former was marked mostly by new, triumphant milestones for the Transgender community. The latter, 2002-2003, also saw advances, particularly the landmark Supreme Court decision in June invalidating laws prohibiting "sodomy", and the passage of AB 196 in California, prohibiting job and housing discrimination against transgenders. This past year, however, will probably be remembered more for the tragedies and losses we endured

The most prominent of these, of course, was the brutal hate-crime murder of Araujo, and the insensitivity of mainstream media coverage that only rubbed salt in our wounds.

As GLAAD [ Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation] wrote:

"Since the body of Latina transgender teen Gwen Araujo was discovered in mid-October, the amount of media reporting on her life, the murder investigation and subsequent arrests has reached a level unseen in hate crime coverage since the murder of Matthew Shepard in 1998. Yet media outlets' ongoing misidentification of Gwen as a boy named "Eddie" --
despite the fact that she lived full-time as a woman -- has sparked intense concern by GLAAD and other LGBT community members.

"...Bay Area outlets like the San Francisco Chronicle ...after a month of repeated outreach by
GLAAD and members of the local community, ... continued insistence on using an incorrect name and incorrect pronouns ... inaccurate reporting that disrespects the subject.

"It was especially disturbing that the Associated Press' local bureau continues to violate AP style guidelines in reporting on Gwen's death. AP style states that when referring to
transgender subjects who are not able to indicate their name and/or gender, reporters are to "use the pronoun consistent with the way the individuals live publicly" (see >http://www.glaad.org/media/archive_detail.php?id=86& for more details).

"Yet in a Nov. 18 conversation with the AP's San Francisco bureau, GLAAD was told that because Gwen had not had hormone therapy or a sex change, they would continue to refer
to her as a "cross-dresser" and as "Eddie" -- despite the fact that Gwen lived as a woman full-time and therefore should not be characterized as a cross-dresser (see GLAAD's Media
Reference Guide at http://www.glaad.org/media/guide/transfocus.php for more information). and, notably, contradicts the name her family has placed on her grave.

"Ironically, a recent article in the San Francisco "Chronicle" referred to Gwen as "Eddie 'Gwen' Araujo," but
later in the article accurately mentioned Brandon Teena, the female-to-male transgender person who was the subject of the movie "Boys Don't Cry.")."

The august Los Angeles Times still insisted on holding to its policy of referreing to Gwen as "Eddie" because her mother still referred to her by that name, and because she still attended school as a boy [insensitive to the reality of school rules and peer pressure that likely would have prohibited her from dressing as she wished.] SCHA-LA ["So-Called Homosexual Agenda"], an alliance of trans, gay, lesbian and friendly straights formed in June 2003, and GLAAD have demonstrated in front of the Times headquarters and met with their editors about this insensitive reporting.

At our own "Our Voices, Our Lives" Memorial in Hollywood on November 3, 2002 and at the Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20, our community leaders reminded reporters and editors what it is like to live in a culture where transgender identity is so routinely marginalized and disrespected. in ways that increase public understanding of our community.

Lesbian activist Susan Forrest <sforrest@bhs-inc.org>, now a founder of SCHA-LA, wrote on theAraujo case on November 4, 2002 re local channel 7 coverage of the 11/3 vigil:

" The 11pm coverage of the vigil on channel 7 was disgusting. They were there - they must have been because they had footage. I assume they must have listened to the
speakers, however they still spoke of "Eddie" who was murdered when "he" was revealed as a "man".

" I along with others who helped organize the Vigil for Gwen are angry and upset about the coverage of Channel 7 KABC. It does feel like a "deliberate" attempt to silence the voices of our transgender community.
No one from Channel 7 spoke with any member of the Transgender Community."


In May, 2003, we finally got some positive coverage on the air on KCAL Channel 9, KCAL, Channel 9 in Los Angeles, aired "The
Killing of Gwen, " focussing on the brutality of the killing and on the threat ofviolence and the discrimination faced by transgender people, showing how the viewing audience could increase its "awareness".

As one viewer wrote: " Despite one teaser that talked
about what happened when it was revealed that "she was a he" and a few pronoun glitches during the main story, overall, the piece of thoughtful and sympathetic, clearly intended to convey to the audience a feeling of empathy for Gwen and her family, and a sense of horror at the brutal killing of a beautiful young woman for no reason other than that her killers could not or would not accept her for who she was."

WORSE FOR THE COMMUNITY, PERHAPS, BECAUSE IT INVOVLED A TRANS -ON-TRANS MURDER, was the tragic death of Transgeneracion's vice president Laura Banuelos on March 17, 2003:

As Frontiers Magazine's Christopher Lisotta

" The victim, Laura Banuelos, the
vice president of Latina transgender social support group Transgeneration 2000, was leaving the Yukon Mining Company, a restaurant with a large LGBT clientele, when she was
allegedly shot by Sylvia Boots, who was a performer at our West Hollywood nightclub "Peanuts", as well as a trans adult film star. She [Sylvia] allegedly had been fighting for weeks with a third transgender woman over who was more attractive."

Lisotta continued in Frontiers:

"The incident has shocked the greater Los Angeles transgendered community, which has often spoken out against violence directed toward transgendered people, but has rarely
discussed transgender-on-transgender violence.

"We may have a situation of domestic violence," said Shirley Bushnell, a longtime transgender community activist, "but this is the only thing [murder] I know of at this time."

"Although Bushnell wasn't close to either the victim or the suspect, she occasionally saw Banuelos at meetings. "I always found her to be friendly," Bushnell said. "She always had an
outgoing, upbeat image."

I knew Laura to be an outspoken critic of police, and one who could act as a bridge between "street girls", like herself and social service workers, such as Bushnell, trying to outreach to our community. She was friendly, once you got to know her.

Maria Louise Roman, program manager of Transgeneros Unidas at Bienestar Human Services, gave a moving eulogy at our March 19 memorial and candlelight vigil march from the scene of the death to the Arena nightclub where Laura had so often helped lead Transgeneration 2000 meetings.

Like most of the mourners, the tragedy struck Maria very close to home, since we knew both women well.

"This hate crime was not committed by an outsider, but rather by one of our own," Roman said in a written statement. "As hard as it may sound, this senseless act was committed by
a transgender. This is a clear sign of how much work is ahead to unify our community and to begin a healing process. Two lives have been lost. Words cannot express how I am
affected, sadden [ed], and in pain, since I knew both of [these] beautiful women."

Again mainstream coverage of the Banuelos tragedy was inaccurate.

As Lisotta wrote: "Adding to the confusion were stories from KABC-TV news that identified both suspect and victim as "Hispanic males." Bushnell approached West Hollywood Sheriff's Station Capt. [now promoted to Commander]
Lynda Castro about the reports to see if releases from the station itself had misidentified Banuelos and Boots. In an e-mail to Bushnell, Castro said she had responded to the scene
and talked to the homicide lieutenant who gave the press briefing, and thought any miscommunication came from the media outlet itself.

"Under a West Hollywood Station order designed to specifically address any confusion, deputies are told if an individual is presenting and living as a female, note that the person is
transgendered in the first paragraph of the narrative and refer to the person as "she" throughout any written report. In terms of booking, the booking page should say "male" if the
person has male genitalia, but on the report's face page and when using pronouns, the deputy is instructed to go with female pronouns and note that the suspect is transgendered.

Lisotta continued " According to Los Angeles County Sheriff's spokesman Deputy Richard Weston, the issue of gender is "really not relevant to the case, unless it's a hate crime. We're talking about
facts, we're not leaving anything open to interpretation." Weston said that since the coroner's report listed that Banuelos had male genitalia, he had to be referred to as male in
subsequent Sheriff's reports. "If surgery is completed then it's female," he added. "Everyone has their own interpretation."

Thus, according to Deputy Weston, we are to be defined not by our life-choice, but by the physical findings of a medical examiner,as cold and insensitive as the coroner's metal examination table!

As if Deputy Weston hadn't aggravated our pain enough, Laura Banuelos ' family from Mexico, who apparently never accepted her transgender life-choice, further insulted us by holding a service at a local funeral home in which Laura's body was on display dressed as a man.

A further indication of how deep the tragedy struck our community is the fact that Transgeneracion has stopped having its weekly meetings since Laura's death.


Marsheli, long a member of our community passed on November 25, 2002, apparently of an annurism. A friend reported she suffered fainting spell about one week before, complained of an earache, and had seen an MD. Her family quietly returned her remains to her native Hawaii without giving her trans friends an opportunity to have a local service.

Another Los Angeles trans woman, Deborah, passed on August 9, of cancer. Fortunately, we did gather for a wake on August 12 near her home.

The end of February 2003 saw the sudden, unannounced closing of an institution in our community, the Queen Mary Show Lounge in Studio City.

Transgender women thought of it as a place to celebrate triumphs, start new relationships, or to find comfort in hard times. [Trans men were also infrequent visitors to the club.]

Located on the upscale "strip" of stores and restaurants along the San Fernando Valley's famed Ventura Boulevard, it provided a more sedate and elegant setting than the fast life of Hollywood. "QM" was the establishment, a stable oasis for a tempestuous sub-culture since it opened in 1958..

The transgender community could understand if the owners no longer wanted to run the club, even though it consistently drew a full house, at least on Saturdays.

Butch Ellis, the long-time hostess of the show, told me that there were "private reasons that will never be known to outsiders" for the closing.

Most customers would have thought, however, after decades of spending their money in this family business, that they would have merited at least a farewell, if not a "thank you", and a chance to bid adieu to the talent and staff.

A "reunion" of the QM's talent and customers was held in September at a Valley hotel.


Despite such tragedies, we also saw some triumphs in 2002-2003.

Transgender men and women organized and attended a fourth annual Trans-Unity Festival at the Village in Hollywood.

Both the Latina-oriented Transgeracion 2000 group, the African-American-oriented Unique Woman's Coalition and Asian-Pacific oriented APAIT held pagents and banquets.

Transgender men and women marched in June's Chrstopher Street West Parade, in memorial for those sisters and brothers slain in hate crimes.

West Hollywood's Transgender Task Force continued its monthly meetings at the city hall and sponsored a successful panel in June on the Media's coverage of the community.

A Transgender was honored as "Woman of the Year" by the California Legislature on March 25 2003

The controversy with neighbors of our West Hollywood Club 7969, aka "Peanuts" that dominated much of our time the year before, subsided , and the club has remained open without trouble all this year.


On the political front, trans activist forced a unfriendly author to cancel a book promotion in West Hollywood. The May 30, 2003 appearance of J. Michael Bailey, author of THE MAN WHO WOULD BE QUEEN at "A Different Light" bookstore was canceled. Alexander Yoo, a female-to-male leader and Shirley Bushnell helped organize the campaign on short notice.

Lynn Conway, Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan wrote in an e-mail that sparked the campaign to stop the appearance:

" The imprimatur of the National Academy gives J. Michael Bailey's new book "The Man Who Would be Queen" the apparent stamp of approval of science. And as we speak it is being adopted in many university undergraduate psychology courses.

"The book portrays transsexual women (whom Bailey calls transsexual men) as sex maniacs who "change (genital) sex" for exotic sexual reasons...

"Bailey goes so far to say that he cannot comprehend someone in a male body having a female gender identity. And because he cannot comprehend it, then it cannot be!...

" Thus he claims that we do not even exist, as we ourselves perceive our existence. Instead we are merely "transsexual men" who underwent "sex changes" (i.e., SRS), as if we were
a bunch of drag queens who went terribly wrong somehow

"If there is a culprit here, beyond Bailey and his sexologist colleagues, it is academic psychology, which sanctioned this work as science and sent it along to the Academy.

" How Bailey's terribly flawed book could have been published by the National Academy is quite beyond me. And as a duly elected member of the Academy, you can bet I'm asking some hard questions right now."


As stated at the outset, some good legislation did get proposed and passed this year:

Working with the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, Project Inform, AIDS Project Los Angeles
and the Southern California HIV Advocacy Coalition (SCHAC), the L.A. Gay & Lesbian Center coordinated an AIDS Lobby Day in Sacramento on
April 21st. Along with ADAP clients and other advocates, the Gay & Lesbian Center's deputy director of policy, Joshua Bobrowsky, testified during a Senate hearing on the ADAP budget. Advocates presented a proposal to fully fund ADAP without requiring co-payments from ADAP clients.

This summer Governor Gray Davis signed Assembly Bill 196, making it illegal for landlords and employers to discriminate against people who have changed their gender. This is a major step forward for our community, but time will tell how well the new legislation is enforced.


Jessie Jacobson JJacobson@laglc.org, a MTF Transsexual formed a new therapy group for Male-to-Female Transgender and Transsexuals at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center. The first Group began in May and a second started this fall.


The Transgender Law Center this year worked with Coalition for Pride and Equality (CAPE) in Sacramento highlighting some transgender rights legislative ideas



Bushnell spoke eloquently in November about the harsh reality faced by transgenders and the Center's historic failure to reach out and help them, "I do not see my brothers and sisters represented in the board and employees at the Center," she said, noting that the Center had only recently added transgenders to its mission statement. "This needs to be addressed. I am here as a grassroots activist to open a dialogue with the Center and take a look at the services they are providing to the community."


All in all, our community survived the tragedies and setbacks of 2002-2003 and can build on the hard lessons it learned from these adversities as it prepares for the challenges of 2003-2004.
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