Even today, the struggle to find acceptance for one’s gender identity is very real. There are still countless people who refuse to accept that not everyone who is born with a gender feels as though they are unequivocally that gender.
Still, there are many transgender folks out there with an excellent support system and the self confidence to truly be who they want to be. Gwen was on the road to feeling that way and had her whole family behind her. But there were people in her life who couldn’t accept that and who lashed out when they learned the truth…
Featured Photo Credit: www.findagrave.com
When Gwen was a baby, her parents, who lived in Newark, California got divorced. Gwen never lacked for any love, however, and despite being brought up by a single mother, she flourished. It wasn’t until she was two years old that her mother began to notice some unusual tendencies. You see, Gwen wasn’t born Gwen, back then, she was Edward.
Edward’s feminine side was already showing itself quite prominently at the age of two. His mother and their family encouraged him to be himself, which as it happened, was really a herself. But kids will always be kids and despite the support she received at home, she was bullied almost incessantly at school…
Gwen, as Edward liked to be called, would come home from school covered in bruises. When her family would ask what happened, she would tell them that the other kids beat on her and called her mean names like “faggot”. Nevertheless, Gwen’s sister, Pearl, always stood up for her and did her best to keep her safe. By the time she was a teenager, Gwen knew what she was and that she felt trapped in Edward’s male body.
A Dab Hand
Soon enough though, Gwen began hormone therapy and started to wear makeup almost exclusively. As it happened, she was even better at putting on makeup than her mother and sister. Her family accepted her wholeheartedly, but she craved that same acceptance from the world around her: a world which even today, has trouble accepting people like Gwen…
Gwen’s ultimate goal was to get gender reassignment surgery as soon as she could get the chance. But the road to a new life is never easy and before Gwen would ever get the chance to make it all the way there, her life was cut short. In the summer of 2002, Gwen made some new friends, friends who were not aware of the fact that she was born Edward Araujo.
Michael Magidson, Jose Merel, Jason Nabors and Jason Cazares were all young men whom Gwen had met over the course of a few nights out. Gwen hit it off with them almost immediately and in no time at all, she became a frequent visitor at Merel’s home. The group would play dominos and drink, until those activities led to others…
Within a couple weeks, Gwen and Michael Madison’s relationship went to the next level. She engaged in oral sex with him on several occasions and even went a bit further with Jose Merel. Of course, as long as she wanted them to remain in the dark about her remaining male attribute…she made sure that things never went any further than that.
If any of her new partners did try to touch her, she pushed their hands away and would claim that she was on her period. She knew it could only last so long, but figured everyone was having enough fun to stay happy. The men, however, began to compare notes about their various dalliances with Gwen and soon realized something wasn’t adding up…
It was on the night of October 3rd, 2002 when Gwen attended yet another party at Merel’s home. On this night, she decided that she was comfortable enough around them to wear a skirt. The other three men were there as well, as was one of the men’s other friends, Nicole Brown. Little did Gwen know, that night was about to change her life…
During the course of the party, Gwen’s gender was brought up in conversation. Nicole, who had already had quite a bit to drink already, suddenly grabbed hold of Gwen’s genital area and yelled: “It’s a %*$#@ing man.” Magidson, proceeded to vomit and then leapt upon the humiliated Gwen, choking her….
Run for Her Life
Magidson had Gwen in a chokehold but was pulled off of her by the other men. The once-happy hangout had turned into an extremely dangerous situation for the formerly-closeted trans woman. All of the men were furious with her for lying to them. Jose Merel, who had been thinking that Gwen was lying since their first sexual encounter, was angrier than all of them.
Time to Go
After a heated conversation, Paul Merél, Emmanuel Merél, and Nicole Brown left the house. Nicole had apparently done what she’d come there to do, expose Gwen’s birth gender. Before Gwen could say anything more or even pack up what was left of her dignity and leave, she was struck in the head with a frying pan by Jose Merel…
Gwen fell to the ground and over the next three hours she was kicked, strangled with a rope, and finally beat with a shovel. As she lay there, bleeding out, she begged for mercy from her four assailants, crying: “No, please don’t. I have a family.” But the two men didn’t stop.
Self-Doubt Breeds Violence
Merel and Magidson, the ringleaders of the assault, yelled at her as they beat her, screaming “I’m not gay. I don’t like men!” Gwen was close to death, but was fading in and out of consciousness. The men hogtied her, wrapped her in a blanket, and threw her in the back of a pickup truck: where she died…
Bury Her Far
The four men drove over 150 miles east to the Sierra foothills. Gwen Araujo was dead and they had to get rid of her once and for all. They walked her into the mountains and buried her in a shallow grave. When the others heard what they had done, they all decided it was in everyone’s best interests to keep the secret.
Hold the Secret
But secrets are tricky little fish and they sit in your belly, wriggling and drawing all your attention until you finally let them out. Two days after Gwen’s death, a friend of Jaron Nabors noticed him feeling distraught. Nabors caved soon after and led the cops to the grave site in exchange for a guilty plea of voluntary manslaughter. The others were apprehended soon after…
Getting justice for Gwen turned out to be just as difficult as it had been for her to get the world to accept her when she was alive. In a stunning and offensive display of “trans panic defense”, the killers’ attorney openly referred to Gwen by her birth name at every opportunity. His defense was that “Eddie” was guilty of “deception and betrayal” and therefore must have been deserved of retribution.
Thankfully, the jury saw through the bigoted defense and the cruel commentary of the defense attorney. In the end, Magidson and Merel were convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to 15 years to life. A third man, Manors, was sentenced to 11 years and the fourth, Cazares, was sentenced to six years in prison. Of course, none of them were charged with what was obviously a hate crime…
Not Hate Crimes
Despite the prosecution’s attempt to convince the judge to consider it such, not one of the four guilty defendants was convicted on the requested hate crime charges. If these charges had been enhanced by the hate crime status, the men could have served much more time for their part in the senseless murder of an innocent person.
In Her Memory
Gwen’s mother had received justice for her child and when it was all said and done, she made a final request of the courts. She had a judge posthumously change Gwen’s legal name from Edward Araujo Jr. to Gwen Amber Rose Araujo on June 23, 2004. Today, Gwen’s family runs the Gwen Araujo Memorial Fund for Transgender Education, which sees her mother and family speaking in middle and high schools about transgender awareness.