The Death of a Filipino Transgender: A “Crime of Hatred”

Credit: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

Credit: Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

On October 11, Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, a 26-year-old Filipino transgender woman was found dead in a hotel in Olongapo, Philippines, her body strangled as her head lay in the toilet bowl. She was last seen alive with an American soldier she met in a bar, identified as US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Since then, the online buzz has never subdued, with netizens expressing disapproval over Jennifer’s alleged infidelity, her non-disclosure of being transgender, and claims of her being a prostitute.

The friend that accompanied Jennifer the night she was killed professed that US marine Pemberton did not know they were not real women. Jennifer’s older sister, Michelle Laude, however disputed the claim that Jennifer was a sex worker. In relation, Marc Sueselbeck, Jennifer’s German fiance said it was “discriminating” for people to jump to conclusion that she was a prostitute just because she was transgender. He was also indifferent towards negative comments about his late fiancee’s alleged infidelity, emphasizing that the people should focus on the gravity of the murder itself.

Jennifer met Sueselbeck in an online dating site in 2012. Sueselbeck was fully knowledgeable that she was a transgender and wholeheartedly accepted it. As proof, Jennifer was all set to fly to Germany on December to prepare for their marriage in Europe on March next year.

Who was Jennifer Laude?

According to her family in an interview with a Philippine newspaper, The Philippine Daily Inquirer, Jennifer started cross-dressing when she was 18. She was inclined to wear clothes that emphasized her figure and flaunted her body form. She was also reported to have watched her weight and surfed the net for plausible beauty regimens. Her sister Michelle and fiance Marc however said that she did not go out often.

The night she was killed, it was reported by a housemate that Jennifer carried with her cash amounting to around 20,000-25,000 Philippine Peso. This, according to the said source was Jennifer’s scheme of readying herself for probable disrespectful acts that may be thrown at her, saying if someone attempted to question her motives, she would throw cash at them to let them know she wasn’t after the money.

Because the said amount was not recovered, robbery is a new angle being explored by the police, having had initially considered the murder as “crime of hatred.”

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)

On the other hand, this incident also led to public outrage and questioning of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States, allowing the latter to conduct drills in the land of the former. This negative attitude of most Filipinos was in part encouraged by the fact that such agreement permits the United States to keep custody of Pemberton.

A number of people also accused the Philippine government of being too lenient regarding the murder case, which the latter denied, with Philippine President Noynoy Aquino saying “He [Pemberton} is not being treated with kid gloves.”

Probing the Murder

On the whole, it is a poignant reality that we live in a world where our mere existence demands explanation. It’s such a pity how seemingly difficult it is for people of different gender to coexist. It is indeed disconcerting how powerless we are against unwarranted judgments from the prying eyes of the public who scrutinize our every move. It’s such a shame how fear is ever present whenever one chooses to step out of the house, afraid he/she does not conform to the standards of society. We have made our owned flawed decisions, and have misbehaved one way or another in this lifetime. But does it mean we deserve to have met the same fate as Jennifer did? I believe not.

We must be able to do what we want and be the person we want to be, as long as we do not inflict pain on anyone. We, after all, could not, and are not designed to please every person we meet. However, the murder of Jennifer Laude could make us realize the menace of displeasing someone who believes he has the power over one’s life.

If we were to look at the incident closely, we would see how it goes beyond issues of prejudice towards Jennifer Laude’s gender. It boils down to the fact that no human being deserves to die like that, regardless of race and sexual orientation.

Jennifer Laude did not deserve to die.