Strange how stories about the deaths of people we don’t even know can move us to tears. I have been thinking and feeling about the deaths of two women: Jennifer Laude and Gloria Casarez.
I was surprised that our local Central Pennsylvania newspaper, The Daily Item, ran a piece about 25 year-old Jennifer Laude, a filipina woman murdered in the city of Olongapo. A US Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton, has been detained and charged with the crime. Jennifer transitioned to female some time ago, and her death has sparked protests demanding rights and protections for transgender people in the Philippines. I have since read that Jennifer was engaged to marry Marc Sueselbeck, a German who will travel to Olongapo to be with the grieving family.
Jennifer’s mother, Julita Laude, is crying out for justice while US officials as high up as Secretary of State John Kerry try to assuage fears that American-Filipino relations will not be harmed by the incident. In response to the murder of Jennifer Laude and a rise in violence against LGBTQ people in the Philippines, filipino senator, Bam Aquino, is pursuing hate crime legislation, saying, “We should impose heavier penalties so that these discriminatory and inhumane acts will be eradicated.”
While hate crime legislation is an important step, it is only one of many that societies need to take to understand and value women who happen to be transgender. Lesbian, gays, and bisexuals who are not trans* can play a role by educating themselves about trans* issues, pursuing justice and rights in solidarity with trans* people, and by being truly inclusive in our organizations, legislative goals, and concerns.
The other woman who died is Gloria Casarez from Philadelphia. After a fight against breast cancer she died today surrounded by friends and her wife, Tricia Dressel. Casarez, age 42 was liaison to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, and according to the Philadelphia Daily News was “a woman who fought for the rights and dignity of everyone who she felt had been marginalized by society.”
In an April 2010 interview, Suzi Nash of the Philadelphia Gay News asked Gloria,
PGN: What’s a situation that really moved you in your work?
Gloria Casarez: There are so many people that have inspired me. When I was younger and doing grassroots work, I was moved over and over again by women who were poor but always put their families first and tried to make things better. People who in the media were characterized as downtrodden but who rose to the occasion to fight for their families. We did housing takeovers, which can be dangerous, but they were fearless. Watching that mama-bear instinct was inspiring.
May those who grieve the loss of Jennifer and Gloria find comfort in memories of their lives, and may justice prevail in Jennifer’s death and in the lives of trans* women who experience so much violence in many countries including the USA.
The Transgender Day of Remembrance, November 20th, is not the only we recognize trans* people, but it is the day we say the name of those murdered over the previous 12 months. We mourn their loss but also recommit to address the violence and build a better, safer world that is not merely tolerant, what an insult, but that provides the same rights, equality, and affirmation of trans* women of color and all trans* people as it does to whites and cisgender people.