06 December 2012

Man Charged In Murder Of January Lapuz

Many of us in the US see Canada--and Vancouver in particular--as a safe, tolerant haven. After all, it was the first country outside of Europe to legalize same-sex marriage, and Toronto and Vancouver are reputed to be among the world's more trans-friendly cities.

Even in those places, though, trans people are apparently not immune to violence and worse.  On 30 September, January Lapuz was found stabbed in her New Westminster, BC home.  She later died in the hospital.   Now a 20-year-old man has been charged in her slaying.

If it's not disturbing enough that the social coordinator of Sher Vancouver (a South Asian gay, lesbian and transgender group) was murdered in metropolitan Vancouver, it would come as another shock to most people to realize that the arrest in her case represents more police work than is done in most other places on most other cases of murdered transgender (or otherwise gender non-conforming) people.   

Sher Vancouver founder Alex Sangha correctly sees Ms. Lapuz's murder, and that of other trans women, as part of an even larger problem.  "There's violence against women, period," he explained.  "[A]nd, if you're different, you're even more vulnerable."

Perhaps that is one reason why there were people who sought to minimize this tragedy.  Although British Columbia isn't Brazil, there is still enough ingrained misogyny that some people sought to, in essence, blame Ms. Lapuz for her stabbing.   When some of the local media reported that she'd been a prostitute, one commenter even said, of her murder, that he was "relieved" for his family.  "I don't have room in my heart to love a gangsters (sic), or a crackhead or an alleged hooker," he explained.

Even if she had been a "hooker", how in the world could he compare her to a gangster, or even a crackhead?  One reason why a larger percentage of trans people than other kinds of people are involved in sex work is that too many of us have no other way to make a living.  Even in a relatively trans-friendly city like San Francisco, in the relatively good economy of 2005, it was estimated that half of all trans people didn't have legitimate paid work.  Much of that, of course, has to do with discrimination.  But many other trans folk--especially the young ones--were bullied out of their schools or kicked out of their homes.  They have no credentials and, too often, lack skills because they've missed so much school and have had chaotic home lives.   So few, if any, legal jobs are available to them.

Even in the unlikely event that she became a prostitute by choice, it is no reason to dismiss the tragedy of January Lapuz's death.  If any other woman--someone's mother, wife, daughter, sister, niece or friend--had been stabbed to death, someone would, rightfully, mourn her.  Ms. Lapuz deserves no less.

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