Born Eddie Araujo, Gwen grew up in the small town of Newark, California
, a suburb 30 miles away from San Francisco, California
. Her big dream was to become a Hollywood make-up artist
After years of dealing with her feelings, Gwen came out to her mom as transgendered at the age of 14. "I don't fit in anywhere and I feel like a freak," Gwen told her mother. Her mother responded by holding her, and telling her, "you know what, baby? You're not a freak." She gave her both confidence and acceptance.
She began to live as a girl, having grown out her hair, and started wearing simple girl's clothes. As is common for transgendered youth, her peers were not entirely helpful. Some friends did stand by and support her, but she was subject to a lot of teasing from others. “I could see the pain in his eyes,” said Sylvia Guerrero, Gwen's mother. “People were really mean to him at school. He really tried, but no one accepted him.” Gwen eventually stopped attending Newark Memorial High School, and enrolled in an alternative school.
Unfortuately, the tormenting continued at the new school, which resulted in Gwen rarely going. “We knew he got picked on by some kids, but we never thought it would become violent,” said Steven Mathisen, a friend of Gwen's from school. She attempted to find jobs, but nobody would hire her. She also applied at local beauty schools, but was turned down at all of them. There are reports that her intense isolation and depression had even led to her using drugs and alcohol.
Finally, after all the years of slowly becoming a girl, she borrowed a skirt from a friend, a peasant blouse from her mother, and went out with some friends. "He went through a lot of pain, and people didn't respect him", her mother, Sylvia Guerrero, said. "It took a lot of guts. He's strong, and he finally came out." This was the first time she really went out completely as a girl - and unfortunately, the last time.
The evening of October 4, 2002, Gwen ended up at a party at the house of Jose Merel, and had been introduced as "Lida". Being just another beautiful girl there, she got a bit of attention from some of the guys there, including 24-year-old Jose, whom she had a crush on. After doing some drinking, she ended up having sex with him (in a manner which hid certain things). Later on, even more drunk she also spent time with Jose's friend, Michael Magidson.
Something about Gwen had aroused Jose and Michael's suspicions, and then began talking about her, and became concerned that something wasn't quite normal about her. They approached Jose's younger brother, Paul. Finally, after talking over their suspicions with each other, Paul had his girlfriend, Nicole Brown, confront Gwen in the bathroom to determine her sex. When Nicole came out, she announced "It's a man; let's go."
Accounts vary, but when she came out of the bathroom, Gwen was either hit in the face or stabbed, resulting in a large gash, and then beaten. They then dragged her into the garage, and strangled her to death. After killing her, they tied her hands and feet together, wrapped her up in a bedsheet, and threw her in a truck. They dumped her body at Silver Fork Campground in El Dorado County, 100 miles away.
Though the beating had been done in full view of all the partygoers, and just about everyone knew the guys had killed Gwen, nobody talked in other than hushed rumors about the killing for two weeks, while Gwen's mother was left wondering what had happened to her. Eventually, the police were tipped by a guy that had been involved in it, Jaron Nabors, and he told them where Gwen's body could be found.
The circumstances of the murder upset many people. “Eddie was at a large party,
taken to the garage, beaten, and then strangled. No one heard? No one helped?” said Gwen's friend, Crystal Mason. Gwen's uncle, David Guerrero, said “All those people who didn’t say anything are guilty by association.”
Even the police had something to say about the case. "This is a child of our community, a human being," said Newark Police Lt. Lance Morrison. "Someone was dumped like a piece of trash on the side of a mountain. A number of people could have helped, stepped in, prevented, or reported this. None of them did."
Much of the media coverage of the murder was mixed. Many in the transgender community were pleased that the murder received a lot of press, as many murders of transgendered youth receive little attention. The stories were also usually free of any "sensationalism" that offen accompanies stories about the transgendered. However, the articles frequently referred to Gwen as a "cross-dressing boy", and often stated that she was killed once her "true gender" was revealed, as if she were merely pretending to be a girl.
Even a San Francisco gay activist, Wiggsy Sievertsen, failed to acknowledge Gwen as a transgendered girl. "We really have a responsibility to be very vocal, particularly with cross-dressing boys, that this is a dangerous world for them."
Accepting Gwen as a girl had been tough for her mother. She understood the transition was tough, and she supported Gwen's decision to do so. However, she had never even been able to call her Gwen, usually just "her angel", and still has referred to her as "he" in interviews. Regardless, she honored
her daughter at the funeral, by burying her as the person she wanted to be. As a final show of support, Gwen funeral was open casket, and attendees filed by, and saw Gwen with long hair, necklace, blouse, black lace gloves, and long metallic fingernails, as befitting a young woman. Her tombstone was even inscribed with the name Gwen. At the end of the service, butterflies were released, one for each year of Gwen's life.
"He was my baby. He was my son," Guerrero said at the service. "When you see someone like Eddie, smile at him."
Noted anti-gay activist Reverend Fred Phelps had threatened to picket Gwen's funeral, or as he refferd to her, "cross-dressing teen pervert Eddie Araujo," as he has picketed a number of other public memorials for GLBT people, such as Matthew Shepard. In reponse, Newark police sent officers to protect both the wake and the funeral, to avoid the possibility
of the services being disrupted. Fortunately, no such picket occured, nor did another picket that had been threatened, one in support of the accused murderers.
“People shouldn’t see color, shouldn’t see race, shouldn’t see a lifestyle. They should see what’s on the inside,” said Sylvia Guerrero. “I hope people will learn something from this.”
A post-funeral ceremony at a Newark church had an attendance of about 750
people to show support for Gwen's family. The same day, a march and candlelight vigil in San Francisco attracted 500 supporters. Not long after, a very large vigil took place before a performance of "The Laramie Project" at Newark High.
Gwen Amber Rose Araujo
February 24, 1985 - October 4, 2002
The Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund may still be accepting donations. You can contribute to this fund at any Bank of America branch. Donations go to Account #10598-05854. Or you may send them to:
Eddie Araujo Jr. Memorial Fund
San Benito Bank
300 Tres Pinos Road
Hollister, CA, 95023
Gwen's murder and trial wasn't notable just because the victim was transgendered. In fact, Gwen's murder was the 25th transgendered person to be murdered in 2002, the highest total up to that point. But whether it was the fact that Gwen was an attractive, likeable girl, the fact that it happened so closely to a proudly open-minded and accepting place like San Francisco, or the fact that the murder was so clearly witnessed by many, it became a rallying point for many in the transgender community to point out the problem of violence toward the transgendered, and an escalating trend of violence toward transgended youth in
There is little doubt that the defendents - Michael William Magidson, Jose Antonio Merel, and Jaron Chase Nabors, were there, that they beat and killed Gwen, and dumped her body. What the trial has become is a case of them trying to pin the blame on someone else, and claiming a defense of "trans panic", similar to "gay panic", to avoid the charge of first degree murder with a hate crime enhancement, as California is one of five states that includes "gender identity" in its hate-crimes statute..
Nabors eventually pleaded guilty to manslaughter, with an 11 year prison term, in return for testimony against Magidson, Merel, and a fourth man, 24 year-old Jason Cazares.
Much of the case centered around the defense arguing that the fact that Gwen had deceived the men when she had sex with them, and their later discovery made then panic and become irrational enough that they responded with the murder, without having premeditated it. Of course, all that, even though they had already been discussing suspicions over Gwen's sex and surely had put some thought into what to do if she was what they suspected.
The first trial was declared a mistrial. The jury was deadlocked 7-5 in favor of a guilty verdict for Magidson, and 10-2 against for Merel and Cazares. The jurors were split as to whether the defendants had premeditated the murder, which is necessary for the first-degree conviction. Plans are underway to retry the defendants.
Upon the mistrial being announced, Gwen's mother fled the courtroom in tears, unable to speak. She later said "I felt like I'd faint. I just wanted
to crawl away and go to sleep."
Gwen Araujo Memorial, http://www.jaimesite.homestead.com/gwenaraujo.html
Balagot, Jordan, In Memory of Gwen Araujo
Remembering Gwen, http://www.advocate.com/html/stories/877/877_araujo.asp
COMES NATURALLY #129, Spectator Magazine, http://www.sexuality.org/l/davids/cn129.html
ABCNews.com, Mom of Slain Cross-Dresser Recalls His Pain, http://abcnews.go.com/sections/GMA/GoodMorningAmerica/GMA021126Slain_cross_dresser.html