Sunday, October 19, 2014

Hate crime

This is my column today, October 19, 2014.


Jennifer Laude was found dead at the bathroom of a motel in Olongapo City last week. 
The case has been generating media and public attention for two reasons.  First, the suspect in the murder is a United States military personnel who is in the country by virtue of the Visiting Forces Agreement, an arrangement that is perceived by many particularly by nationalists as grossly disadvantageous and unfair to Filipinos.  This is the second time that a US-enlisted man has been involved in sexual crime in the country during the conduct of military exercises under the VFA.  Second, there are quite a number of elements in the story that are, to put it mildly, out of the ordinary.
First of all, the victim was a transgendered woman.   In this country, that’s a sexual identity that invites curiosity, if not outright prejudice and condemnation.  Of course the fact that Laude was murdered under gruesome circumstances (she was drowned on a toilet bowl) has led to some empathy because no one – absolutely no one deserves to die that way.  However, the initial theories forwarded by the police as possible motivations for the murder clearly smacked of institutionalized homophobia.  There were actually comments in social media that suggested she deserved to die.
There was immediate and seemingly automatic presumption that the Laude hoodwinked the heterosexual man into believing that she was a woman, in the process, setting herself up for trouble.   The police actually dared to verbalize the possibility that Laude was killed because no right man would go to bed with a transgendered woman, and that such a deception is a possible excuse for murder. The fact that there were used condoms in the bathroom that suggested the sexual act was consummated, or that Laude was picked up in a very public bar which offered various opportunities for her sexual identity to be revealed, or that there was ample time that elapsed for both parties to get to know each other, and many other factors, were conveniently glossed over.  The deception theory was not only faulty; it was downright prejudiced because it was based on the presumption that men would not go to bed with a transgendered woman and that transgendered women are in the habit of luring straight men to bed under false pretenses.  This is prejudiced thinking because there is growing evidence that there are men who actually go to bed with a transgendered woman and the reasons are complex.
The second theory was even more alarming as it submitted the possibility that Laude was possibly a thief – that she could have been caught in the act of stealing and was subsequently murdered.   Given that Laude had no criminal record, what was even the basis for this theory?  Apparently, this is an extension of the line of reasoning that says transgendered women are capable of stealing since they are involved in the business of deception.  Quite a wild leap in the area of logical deduction, but I guess people do not really question their prejudices.
But why the automatic assumption that she “caused” her murder?  Why the heck couldn’t she be presumed an ordinary victim – someone who was unfortunately at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong person?  Why couldn’t we judge the case and empathize with the victim on the basis of the fact that she was a person with the same rights and liberties, dreams and aspirations, as others?
And then there was the element of Laude being “engaged” to a German national, who very generously allowed himself to be interviewed on public television.  While most chose to keep their peace on the subject of a transgendered woman being engaged to another man, the “curiosity” was palpable.  One could sense the unspoken questions and commentaries that were on people’s minds.  In fact, some people did dare to ask if the German national was aware of Laude’s true gender – again, hinting at the possibility that deceit and trickery are natural predispositions for transgendered people.  Some people even mocked the German national for lacking in certain mental faculties – all because he fell in love with someone who just happened to be a transgendered person.
Laude didn’t deserve to die, and under such inhuman circumstances.   Like many Filipino lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered people, Laude was the breadwinner in her family and she sent younger siblings to school. She was fun-loving, yes; but she was also a good person based on the testimony of many who knew her.  Her gender should not be an issue in the discussion.

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