Friday 17 August 2018

Hundreds of trans women are being murdered in Mexico – and nothing is done

Since June 14 of this year at least ten trans women have been murdered in Mexico, continuing a cycle of violence and impunity that has claimed over 400 lives in the past decade.

The most recent case was the killing of the winner of a beauty queen pageant in the municipality of Martínez de la Torre, in the State of Veracruz. The half-naked body of Alaska Bout was found on July 25 with signs of torture and barbed wire wrapped around her neck.
Alaska Bout

Her death has resulted in a complaint from the United Nations Human Rights Commission. Specific concern has been raised with regard to security in Veracruz. According to the social anthropology research center (known as CIESAS, or “Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social”), Veracruz ranks first for the murder of trans people.

Alaska Bout was the second gay pageant queen to be assassinated this year. In May Yamileth Quintero, winner of a beauty contest in Elota, Sinaloa, was killed in the state capital of Culiacán. As a beauty queen, the death of Alaska received widespread media attention in Mexico, unlike the murders of other trans women, which were much lower profile. This has resulted in a critique that Alaska, as a well-known and talented performer, had a life that was valued higher than those trans women who lead more marginal lives, given that some of the murdered individuals were sex trade workers.

Among the most recent dead since June 14 are: “Katty N.” in Morelos; Alexa Gutiérrez in Aguascalientes; Alexa Altamira, in Guanajuato; Nataly Briyith in Chiapas; a person named “Chanel” as well as two as of yet unidentified individuals in the State of Mexico; and two other unidentified dead women in Colima and Michoacán.

According to data provided by Mexico’s Trans Identity Support Center (Centro de Apoyo a las Identidades Trans), of the 422 murders that have been documented from 2007 to 2017, the last two years have been the worst. 2016 had 80 recorded murders of trans people, and in 2017 there were 59.

The Support Center’s analysis highlights that these murders have occurred in a culture where impunity is rampant, with a lack of consequences for those responsible. The killings can function as a form of "social punishment" of the victims, and are often characterized by torture and the overt display of the bodies.

The Center would like these murders to be considered as specific hate crimes. At present, the murders of trans women are not considered to be “transfemicides”. Given that the individuals are not legally considered to be women, their deaths are not even tracked as femicides. Often, the press will report on the crimes against trans women with overt prejudice. While the murder of a gay man is often a “crime of passion”, crimes against trans women are often derogatory, referring to them as “men dressed as women”.

Research by Ana Karen Sánchez of the Department of Social Anthropology at the Autonomous University of the State of Mexico indicates that the life expectancy of a trans person in Mexico is 35 years. At present, life expectancy for cisgender men in Mexico is 74, and for cisgender women it is 79.

There are many factors contributing to this dire circumstance – all of which have prejudice at their core. Suicide rates are high, as is murder, and many trans individuals are denied medical treatment by transphobic doctors.

Of greater concern is that the extent of the violence is almost certainly even worse than reported. According to Jazz Bustmante, a trans activist from Veracruz, for each recorded death there may be two or three that go unreported. 

According to Transgender Europe (TGEU), the ongoing violence against trans people makes Latin America the most dangerous region in the world to be trans. TGEU claims that there were 325 registered transgender murders between October 1, 2016 and September 30, 2017. Of these, Latin America accounted for 267.

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