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Today is Tuesday, November 27, 2007


Transgender Teen's Slaying Shakes Nation

Newark boy's (sic) death prompts discussions in schools, among advocates -- and at home

The slaying of a 17-year-old Newark [transgendered male-to-female teen] who police say was killed because [she] identified as female has drawn national attention to the struggle of transgender people to overcome discrimination.

The story of Eddie Araujo -- who called [herself] Gwen, wore girls' clothing and makeup and liked to date boys -- is being discussed in classrooms and receiving coverage on CNN, in USA Today and in the New York Times.

Whether Araujo's killing leads to changes in hate crime laws or better education about transgender issues, as many advocates hope, remains to be seen.

But the incident already is having an impact in many parts of the Bay Area.

Jack Thompson, a female-to-male transgender Berkeley High School student, said that after hearing about Araujo's slaying, [his] mom started calling [him] by the male pronoun, which [he] prefers -- a small but significant step.

Jack said it is not uncommon to be pelted with anti-gay epithets when [he] takes [his] girlfriend to the movies in Walnut Creek, where [he] lives.

"If my mom is changing and (outreach groups) are out in the schools talking about this, then things are changing," said Jack, who is 16 and started identifying as male about a year and a half ago. "It shouldn't have had to go this far to make people understand, but it does."

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights groups say the case illustrates the need for changes in federal hate crime laws, which would bring stiffer penalties to perpetrators who are convicted of targeting victims based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Soon, lobbyists on Capitol Hill may carry the story of Eddie Araujo to lawmakers when they try to make their case for changing federal law.

Only five states -- California, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri and Vermont -- and the District of Columbia include gender identity in their hate crime laws, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation's largest gay lobbying group.

"What happens to transgender youth like Gwen Araujo is a piece of what happens to every kid," said Riki Wilchins, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Gender Public Advocacy Coalition. "I spoke with a mom recently who said her son refused to use a purple lock on his locker in gym class out of fear of being taunted or attacked.

"Kids are dying out there because they don't meet narrow gender norms -- the boy who throws 'like a girl' or the girl who is perceived as being too masculine," Wilchins added. "I'm confident change is coming as crimes like these raise people's awareness. Unfortunately, it's not happening quick enough. "

Some see hope for changing individual attitudes, as a result of the outpouring of sympathy Araujo and [her] family have received. Transgender and gay and lesbian rights groups say their in-boxes and voice mail boxes are being flooded with support for Araujo.

Tina D'Elia, spokeswoman for San Francisco based Community United Against Violence, which has received calls and e-mails from across the country people expressing support and sympathy for Araujo, said she was struck by a conversation with an officer of the Newark Police Department.

"His response to me on the phone was unlike that of any officer I've ever dealt with. He said, 'This is a child of our community, a human being.' This is the piece of hope that I have, that this case is going to bring education about transgender issues into the larger mainstream community."

Transgender activists say violence against transgender people is underreported -- and the incidents that are reported, for the most part, have received scant attention.

Last year, Fred Martinez Jr., a 16-year-old Navajo who wore makeup and carried a purse, was killed in Cortez, Colo. Also last year, a 22-year-old San Jose man was convicted of the 1999 murder of 19-year-old Alina Marie Barragan, a biological male who dressed as a woman.

But many in the Bay Area hope that Araujo's case will change that. "Gwen is our Matthew Shepard," said Rachael Janelle Light, president of Transgender San Francisco, a 20-year-old education and advocacy organization, referring to the 1998 beating death of a gay Wyoming college student.

"We've lost 25 girls this year, and here it's happening again. It brings to a head the need for all transgender people to feel safe. The only way we're going to achieve that is through continuing education and doing outreach. A case like this makes it more real. Even in the gay movement sometimes we're forgotten."

The Gay-Straight Alliance Network, which conducts workshops in the Bay Area, Central Valley and Southern California, has been including transgender sensitivity training in its workshops for teachers and students for several years, to a mostly receptive audience.

The San Francisco Unified School District has for many years included transgender sensitivity in its curriculum. This year, the Oakland Unified School District began a similar program. The district has a policy against discrimination and holds periodic workshops for students, teachers and administrators.

"Transgender issues are definitely on the radar," said Janine Saunders, who was hired as that district's coordinator for sexual identity and gender issues.

"Whereas teachers in the past never thought of these issue and may have been unaware, I absolutely feel they're now aware of these issues."

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