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Friday, October 12, 2012

Remembering Slain Transgender Teen Gwen Araujo

Posted By on Fri, Oct 12, 2012 at 12:15 PM

Pearl and Gwen, sisters
  • 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.

See also:

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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.

Sylvia Guerrero
  • 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.

Gwen Araujo
  • 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.

Sylvia Guerrero with Gwen's Urn
  • 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.

Gwen's Funeral
  • Gwen's Funeral
Around this time, Araujo became friends with four men, Michael Magidson, Jose Merél, Jaron Nabors, and Jason Cazares. They would party, do drugs, and Araujo had sexual relations with Magidson and Merél. In the few months that Araujo knew them, the question of Araujo's gender started to come into question. On October 3, 2002, Gwen got a call from these friends asking her to come party. When Gwen showed up, everything seemed normal; the men were playing dominoes, drinking, and doing drugs.

Over the course of the evening, they began to question Gwen about her gender. This culminated in Magidson tackling her to the ground in order to remove her underwear to see her genitalia. Upon realizing that Gwen had the genitals of a man, the men beat Gwen within an inch of her life. They used a soup can, a frying pan, their hands, and whatever else they could find to bludgeon her with. When they were done, they drug her to the garage and hung her with a rope. The last thing that Gwen said before they murdered her was, "Please don't, I have a family."

Afterward, they drove to the Sierra Foothills and buried her in a shallow grave. It took two weeks before her body was discovered, and the guilty parties were taken into police custody. When the trial began, the defendants used the Gay Panic Defense. Gwen was put on trial and painted as deceptive and a liar, that due to her misrepresentation of her gender, the men were justified in killing her. Anyone remember the Twinkie Defense?

Guerrero and her family went to court every day, listening to the defense attorneys blame her daughter for her own death. Guerrero looked at the pictures of her daughter postmortem and endured the details of how her child was killed. On the day of the verdict, the judge declared a mistrial because the jury could not come to a decision. The family endured a second trial where they hoped they would find justice for Gwen.

Throughout the trials and the waiting, Guerrero began to speak out. She went to middle schools, high schools, and college campuses to talk about her daughter. Guerrero never wants another family to endure what hers did and she wants transgender people to be accepted and not have to fight so hard for civil rights they should simply have.


In 2006, a law was passed, AB1160 Gwen Araujo Victim's Right Act that no longer allowed gay panic to be used as a defense in the State of California. Guerrero also fought to have her daughter's name changed postmortem, and she won. Araujo's legal name in the State of California is now Gwen Amber Rose Araujo. After the second trial, Guerrero and her family waited with bated breath to see if this jury would finally bring justice to her daughter. Magidson and Merél were convicted of second degree murder. The other two defendants pleaded no contest to involuntary manslaughter. Guerrero finally received a measure of justice for her daughter.

When I found out that the 10 year anniversary of Gwen's death was coming up and that an event would be held, I knew I had to attend. Her mother, Sylvia Guerrero was speaking and I wanted to meet the woman who fought for her daughter while she was alive and continues to fight for her and others now after her death.

When I walked in, I was shocked at the less than 50 people in attendance. When I introduced myself to Guerrero, I saw a woman who was desperately trying to keep it together. Beyond being the 10 year mark of Gwen's death, this was the first time all of Guerrero's children and grandchildren would be present to hear her speak about their sister and aunt.

One of the first things Guerrero said when she got on stage was "I wish I could say that 10 years has healed me and my family but it hasn't." She then went on to talk about her daughter, how she always loved her, supported her, protected her, and how she wished she could have been at that house on that fateful night. No matter what sentence these men got, it will never bring her daughter back, but she has forgiven the men that murdered Gwen.

"It was the hardest thing I had to do, but I forgave them." She even plans to visit Merél in prison this year because he has asked to speak to her. Merél has done nothing but show remorse for his part in Gwen's death. He cried in court during the victim statements and he has even said that he loved Gwen and wishes he could take it all back. Guerrero, who has spent the last 10 years talking with Merél's parents, is finally ready to hear what he has to say.

This story saddens me, but knowing how hard Guerrero has fought and continues to fight, gives me hope that people will remember this horrible crime and continue to remember Gwen. This murder, while disgusting, changed laws, created dialogue, and was a huge victory in terms of visibility for the transgender community. I sincerely hope that Guerrero continues to speak out about her daughter, and fight the good fight for all transgender people.

Let us hope that Gwen's memory will not be forgotten, and that it will live on as an example of what hate and ignorance can do. If you would like to know more about this story, a documentary, Trained in the Ways of Men, details this case accurately and can be found on Netflix.


When asked what she hopes will come out of her continued fight, Guerrero said,  "I want everyone to be treated equally and with love, because these people have it harder than the rest of the world."
Vanessa L. Pinto (aka Fleur De Lis SF) documented a year of her sex life on her blog Whatever You Desire. She also blogs for the Huffington Post and is a contributing writer with Whore! Magazine. She has a degree in political science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.

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Vanessa L. Pinto


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