In case you haven’t heard, there were two brutal murders of queer people of color this week (details below). The same week as Transgender Day of Remembrance. I can’t really articulate my feelings, mostly, they are a mix of rage, overwhelm, sadness, grief, irritation and helplessness–a lot of crying while reading twitter. I also can’t believe shit like this is still happening. Matthew Shepard was murdered over a decade ago. I remember those vigils, but for some reason these hit closer to home. Maybe it’s because I have been out of the closet so much longer, maybe it is because more of my friends and lovers are gender nonconforming now. Maybe I am more wholly in my body and self so I feel entitled to express the rage in my heart when it happens instead of dissociating.
Vigils are important to mourn and act in solidarity with people. I encourage all of you out there reading to turn your rage into productivity. Have dialogs about how hate crimes legislation and more prisons might not be the answer. Make art. Talk to people who don’t know what it is like to walk the world as a gender nonconforming person. Take a stand against violence against sex workers. Do something.
This is what my heart friend Leah is doing in Oakland. It’s so fucking articulate.
TIME: Sunday, November 22, 3:30pm
LOCATION: Mac Arthur and Grand Ave. at Lake Merritt
CONTACT: Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, Liz Latty
EMAIL: morethanavigil at gmail
BAY AREA COMMUNITY MEMBERS TO HOLD VIGIL FOR QUEER AND GENDER NON CONFORMING TEENS MURDERED IN MARYLAND AND PUERTO RICO
OAKLAND, CA – Outraged at the murders of two queer and gender non-conforming teenagers last week, Bay Area queers and allies will gather at Lake Merritt this Sunday for a candlelight vigil and open mic to mourn and brainstorm ways to keep their community safer from violence.
Last Friday, 19-year-old Jorge Steven López-Mercado got into a car with Juan Martinez-Matos, 26, who later said he had been “searching for a prostitute.” Martinez-Matos murdered, beheaded and dismembered López-Mercado after, he said, he discovered that López-Mercado had male genitalia and was wearing feminine clothing. Martinez-Matos then set fire to Lopez-Mercado’s remains and left them on the side of a road. Martinez -Matos is now in custody and has confessed to the murder. His bail is set at $4 million.
The same week, in Baltimore, Maryland, queer fifteen-year-old Jason Mattison, Jr., was raped and stabbed to death in his aunt’s home by an adult male, a family friend with whom, according to a Baltimore police spokesperson, Mattison allegedly had a “forced sexual relationship.”
Queer activists say they worry that López-Mercado’s murderer will successfully invoke the defense of “gay or trans-panic” to justify the brutal killing. “The fact that Martinez -Matos is saying that López-Mercado was ‘wearing women’s clothing’ indicates that he might try to say he was ‘fooled’ and therefore ‘forced’ to kill López-Mercado for their gender identity,” Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, one of the organizers of the Oakland vigil said.
“This is completely inexcusable,” Liz Latty, another organizer of the rally this Sunday, said. “It’s blaming the victim. We unequivocally denounce the way that the lives of queer and transgendered people, sex workers, people of color, women and low-income people are devalued and seen as disposable. We especially denounce the ways in which feminine-presenting sex workers of color are incredibly targetted for violence.”
Referring to López-Mercado’s murder, police investigator Ángel Rodríguez Colón told Univisión, “These types of people, when they enter this lifestyle and go out into the streets, know that this could happen.”
“We are outraged at the murders of López-Mercado and Mattison,” Oakland vigil organizer Latty said. “We, queer and transgendered people in Oakland, are mourning these senseless deaths. Yet we are also a resilient community. We wish to stand in solidarity with those in Puerto Rico and Baltimore who are surviving despite this invisibility and injustice.”
Bay Area organizers of the vigil have been in contact with friends of López-Mercado and are hoping to coordinate memorial events and future actions with the Puerto Rican and Baltimore queer communities.
Harry Rodriguez, a spokesperson for the FBI in Puetro Rico, said that the agency will monitor the investigation since federal statutes regarding hate crimes are implicated. Puerto Rican lawmaker, Charlie Hernandez, who authored the Hate Crimes Act of 2002, has been asking officials to consider charging Matos under that law. It would be the first time in Puerto Rico that a murder would be classified as a hate crime. According to the National Lesbian and Gay Task Force, López-Mercado is the tenth murder victim of a hate crime in Puerto Rico in the last seven years.
But Oakland vigil organizers say they want a different kind of justice that doesn’t rely on increased policing or punishment. They say that the prison system has not made life safer for victims of violence, especially those who are queer and transgendered people of color. Organizers say that violence against queer youth of color is only exacerbated by increased police enforcement, which disproportionally targets and locks up low-income people, people of color, sex workers, and gender non-conforming people.
“Hate crimes legislation and more police patrols would not make our communities safer. It would not have prevented the murders, and no punishment will bring these two men back,” organizer Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha said. “Systemic homophobia and transphobia killed López-Mercado and Mattison, who like other queer or gender non-comforming youth of color, faced barriers like street harassment and discrimination in every facet of life. What could’ve actually saved the two young people’s lives are things like free or affordable public transportation, an end to housing and employment discrimination against people of color, queer and trans folks, and the decriminalization of sex work.”
“We don’t know how Lopez-Mercado identified, gender-wise, right now,” added Piepzna-Samarasinha. ” What we do know is that transphobia is a huge part of why they were murdered. As we continue to receive information from Lopez-Mercado’s friends and family members about how Lopez-Mercado saw their gender, we will change their pronouns to the ones they preferred. We want to work to create a world where all people are free to live in safety with any gender expression they desire.”
Vigils mourning López-Mercado and Mattison will also take place this Sunday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Orleans, Amherst, MA, Tara Haute, Abilene, TX, Atlanta, and Durham.