By Kathleen Archambeau
â€śPlease donâ€™t. I have a family.â€ťGwen Araujo
Transgendered Girl Murdered in Newark, CA
The story that began in a Silicon Valley suburb, when Edward Araujo, Jr. at age 14 became Gwen Araujo, a pre-operative transgender young woman, could have ended with her death at age 17. Most of us in the LGBTQ community know about her brutal beating and strangulation by four young assailants that fateful night of October 3, 2002. Despite their gay panic defense, two of the assailants were convicted of second-degree murder and the other two of voluntary manslaughter. But the story didnâ€™t end there.
In the 2012 KQED documentary, Not In Our Town Northern California: When Hate Happens Here, KQED examines four communities addressing hate crimes. In the film, Newark confronts the underlying machismo, homophobia and transgender prejudice that were allowed to flourish throughout the high school and the wider community culture. These were prejudices that ultimately led to murder. Whether in high school classrooms, on athletic playing fields or in locker rooms, â€śThatâ€™s so gay!â€ť and, â€śWhat are you, gay?!â€ť were among the many taunts that went unchecked until the night of Gwen Araujoâ€™s murder.
Under heavy security and just weeks after Gwenâ€™s murder, the Newark Memorial High Schoolâ€™s veteran drama teacher, Barbara Williams, produced the groundbreaking play, The Laramie Project
. While telling the story of gay Matthew Shepherdâ€™s murder in Wyoming, students at Newark Memorial HS had to grapple with their own hidden biases, disgust and fears to produce the play. In 2004, after 39 years of teaching, Williams was given Alameda Countyâ€™s first â€śDistinguished Citizen Award.â€ť After Araujoâ€™s death, this â€śDrama Mamaâ€ť continued to create safe spaces for LGBTQ youth with the â€śNot in Newarkâ€ť grassroots effort to educate and change community attitudes and behaviors toward LGBTQ youth.
While horrendous, Gwenâ€™s death was not in vain. As a result of her brave assertion of the identity to which she felt she belonged from a very young age, the entire town of Newark had to examine its trans phobias and its underlying stereotypes and prejudices. Like all prejudices, it is the ones that are hidden that are most dangerous. Today, in 2012, Newark is beginning to heal from the wounds of this brutal murder of a young, beautiful, defenseless transgender teenager.
Sylvia Guerrero, Gwenâ€™s supportive mother, described Gwen Araujo as â€śa victim of a culture where people react with violence when faced with difference. It is this same culture that led to the suicides of at least six lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender young people in the last weekâ€¦I know what it is like to be the mother of a teenager who endured constant bullyingâ€¦ We must honor Gwen by making sure that every young person, every parent, every teacher, principal and school board member knows that discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity is against the law.â€ť
Sylvia Guerrero continues the fight for safe spaces for LGBTQ youth. She is an active speaker at schools, conferences and events and can be reached at email@example.com. To contribute, you may also send donations to Horizons Foundation and the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education, which supports school-based programs in the nine SF Bay Area counties.