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October 19, 2002

Photo courtesy of sfgate.com

In Memory of Gwen Araujo

Gwen Araujo dreamed of becoming a Hollywood make up artist. She has been described as a beautiful person both inside and out and always smiling. She always thought of herself as a girl, preferred the name Gwen, and always wanted a sex change. She lived in Newark, CA, a small town 30 miles from San Francisco, the supposed gay capital of the United States.

At age 14, Gwen had the courage to come out to her parents. She grew out her hair and wore crop tops and women's jeans. Finally, at age 17, she borrowed her friend's miniskirt and her mom's blouse and had the courage to go out in a skirt as herself for the first time.

"[S]he went through a lot of pain, and people didn't respect h[er], her mother, Sylvia Guerrero, said. "It took a lot of guts. [S]he's strong, and [s]he finally came out."

Gwen went to a house party introduced as "Lida," and passed as a beautiful girl. That is until Paul Merel's girlfriend discovered in the bathroom that she was transsexual, and announced it at the party. Authorities say that Michael William Magidson, 22, Jose Antonio Merel, 22, and Jaron Chase Nabors, 19, punched Gwen in the face, beat her, gashing her face, and then dragged her to a garage while she was semi-conscious and strangled her with rope until she was killed. The men then allegedly tied her wrists and ankles, wrapped her in a bedsheet, and drove her body to Silver Fork Campground, about 100 miles away in El Dorado County.

Paul Richard Merel Jr., 25, Paul Merel's brother, was also arrested with the others, but released Friday. Magidson, Paul Merel, and Nabors are charged with murder and also face a hate-crime enhancement.

Photo courtesy of

A candlelight vigil was held for Gwen by 100 friends and family members on Friday evening. "I am overwhelmed by the support this community has shown," her mother said, "but I am also shocked and scared this has happened in this small town." Guerrero also expressed hope that her daughter's death was not in vain. The family plans to bury Araujo in a dress and in makeup, and to call her Gwen on her tombstone. Contributions may be sent to Eddie Araujo Jr. Memorial Fund, San Benito Bank, 300 Tres Pinos Road, Hollister, CA, 95023. More information will be posted as it becomes available.

This is yet another case in the trend of violence against the transgender community, and, more disturbingly, escalating murders of transgendered youth. In Washington, D.C. last August, Stephanie Thomas, 19, and Ukea Davis, 18, to transgendered girls, were both shot dead in their car. Last year, a 16-year-old transgender Navajo teen named Fred Martinez Jr., who wore makeup and carried a purse, was killed in Cortez, Colorado. In 1999, 19-year-old transsexual Alina Marie Barragan was strangled to death in San Jose.

The public needs to be educated about transgenderism and transgender oppression, and these killings must stop. Transgendered related murders happen over once a month. For an attempt at the most complete list of transgender murders, visit remembering our dead.

The media has been fairly ignorant about this story. The story has gotten a lot of press, which is good, but Gwen is always referred to as he, when she was clearly transsexual. Many versions of the story also say that Gwen was beaten once her "true gender" was discovered. Gwen's "true gender" was female--it was her sex that was discovered, and many would even object to the idea that Gwen's "true" sex was male.

Gay activist Wiggsy Silversteen was quoted as saying, "We really have a responsibility to be very vocal, particularly with cross- dressing boys, that this is a dangerous world for them." While this is true, the lesson to be learned from this tragedy is not that we should scold and scare crossdressing boys. The solution is not to blame the victim, to tell teens to stop crossdressing. The lesson is that we need more education, more visibility, more writing and more activism to make this a safer world for all trans youth and transgendered people.

Story by Jordan Balagot


100 gather to mourn Araujo in candlelight vigil, oaklandtribune.com

3 Charged in Cross - Dresser's Death, nytimes.com

3 charged with hate crime-murder, billingsgazette.com

Body found in El Dorado County identified, sacbee.com

Boy may have been slain over cross-dressing, bayarea.com

Slain Newark teen balanced between two worlds 3 charged in death of youth who was living his dream as a female, sfgate.com

Teenager's Lifestyle May Have Been Motive For Murder, nbc.com

Three charged with hate crime-murder of cross-dressing teen, sfgate.com

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