Although Trans Latinx people comprise a sizeable number of the overall trans population, their representation in the media and any other outlets is almost nonexistent unless they’re mentioned as casualties by other mainstream media and social networks.
By: Patrick DuBois*/Trans Headlines
Yampi Méndez Arocho, a 19-year-old transgender man was killed in Moca, Puerto Rico, on March 5, according to a Human Right’s Campaign release. His murder, said the organization, is believed to be the third overall violent death of a transgender or gender non-conforming (GNC) person in 2020. Arocho’s death is the second violent death of a transgender person in PR.
The first death was that of Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, also known as Alexa, who was killed in Toa Baja, PR last month. Latin trap star Bad Bunny at “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” emblazoned the words “They Killed Alexa, Not A Man In Skirt,” (Mataron A Alexa No A Un Hombre Con Falda, in Spanish) on a T-shirt he wore for the show. The artist was paying homage and bringing awareness to Alexa’s gender identity—the same homeless, transgender woman who was brutally killed on the island. Her murderers allegedly recorded the shooting of her death. Late in February, the PRPD was looking for 4 adolescents who were allegedly involved in her murder, reported Telemundo.
Such a degree of shame seems to be pervasive in the Caribbean island as it relates to many members of the LGB and especially the Trans community. That is the case with a large number of family members who do not come forward even when they are related to the victims, as reported via the Spanish TV network.
“In the meantime, Alexa’s relatives have not attended the Forensic Science Department (Negociado de Ciencias Forenses, in Spanish) to identify her body,” as reported by Telemundo.
According to CNN, Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez said her death would be investigated as a hate crime.
“It’s cruel that these people took her life away in this manner, recording it with lack of sensitivity,” Vázquez said. “That proves that these people have to be brought to justice as soon as possible.”
Yet “news” from Univision continues to misgender and deadname Arocho in their story of his murder. Misgendering, according to many, causes widespread misinformation and a level of disrespect and shame toward the victim and the victim’s family. When contacted to comment and/or correct the mistake, this reporter received no answer from Univision PR via Zamira Mendoza.
“The reality is this isn’t a ‘press specific’ problem—it’s a broader problem in our society that the media could play an important role in helping fix, by taking the simple step of confirming sources’ gender pronouns before covering them in print or on the air,” said Evan Greer to The Rainbow Times.
“Intentional misgendering is when a person knowingly refers to another individual by the wrong gender,” said David Moulton, a registered therapist and Canadian certified counselor via a report for the Durham College Chronicle and The Rainbow Times reported last year. “For example, if a person identifies as ‘he’ and would like to be called as such, but another person refuses and calls the individual she, that is misgendering.”
Moulton said to the Chronicle that misgendering causes increased anxiety and distress for the individual. “Misgendering can slowly chip away, and in some cases, Moulton says misgendering can lead to suicide.”
Yet, the local members of the Puerto Rico police department openly misgendered Arocho as a female.
“This ‘female’ presented with 4 bullet wounds, two in the face and two in the back,” said Agent Ariel Irizarry, Aguadilla, to the same network and the network openly reported it as such.
Suffered prior to his death
On social media, reported the HRC, Arocho shared his love for basketball and the NBA—donning Miami Heat apparel. The biography line on his Facebook reads simply, “Humility Prevails.”
On a post as recent as Feb. 17, Arocho wrote via his FB Page, “Don’t judge the fallen one, Better yet help them to get up because tomorrow the one on the floor might be you” (No Juzgues Al Caído Mejor Ayudalo A Levatarse Por Que Mañana El Que Este En Suelo Puedes ser Tú, in Spanish).
According to reports, Arocho was allegedly assaulted five hours prior to his death— and his mother contacted the police in response to that assault. The Advocate reported that he was “shot twice in the face and twice in the back.”
Perpetuating the stigma
Many journalists, law enforcement and elected officials from the island have been known to continue to exacerbate the injustices suffered by the transgender community in the U.S. Commonwealth, disregarding the victim’s pronouns and chosen (oftentimes legal) name of the victims.
In the pursuit of greater accuracy and respect, HRC offers guidelines for journalists and others who report on transgender people. Equally, GLAAD offers a Media Reference Guide so that reporters, media professionals, and others use the right terminology when referring to members of the LGBTQIA+ community. GLAAD also offers an exclusive transgender media reference to better report, in an affirming and appropriate manner, on transgender issues.
The HRC said that we “must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation appearing at the local, state and federal levels because it is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia, and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive.”
The organization pledges to continue to hold the Trump-Pence administration and all elected officials who fuel the flames of hate accountable at the ballot box.
Local LGBTQ advocates are calling for authorities to thoroughly investigate this crime, including an investigation into whether or not this was a bias-motivated crime.
For more information about HRC’s transgender justice work, visit hrc.org/Transgender. Find available trans resources for additional support, reach out to resources like Trans LifeLine and the Trevor Project. For those in the New England area, GLAD’s legal information line, GLAD Answers, is available to provide information and resources regarding discrimination. If you need trans assistance pertaining ID changes and coverage to get HRT, check out Project Out.