SAN FRANCISCO - On the eighth anniversary of her daughter's murder, Sylvia Guerrero, mother of slain transgender teenager Gwen Araujo, released the following open letter addressing suicide and violence experienced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth:
Dear friends of the Transgender Law Center,
It is with a heavy heart that I write to you today. It has been eight years since my beautiful daughter Gwen Araujo was brutally killed because she was transgender. Gwen was the light of my life. She was taken from us at the young age of seventeen; she was a 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 week.
My heart goes out to the families of these young people. I know what it is like to be the mother of a teenager who endured constant bullying. I cannot count the times that I held Gwen in my arms while she cried at the end of the school day. My Gwen was so smart. She could have grown up to be anything she wanted. But her opportunity was taken from her. Years of bullying forced her to stop going to school. She was harassed and threatened every day. At the time, I didn't know that harassment based on gender identity and expression was against the law in California. My calls to the school went unanswered, and Gwen left school because it was not safe.
We need to do better for our children. Every young person has a right to an education. Every young person has a right to be safe. 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.
If you know a young person who is being bullied, please talk to them-let them know someone cares. Listening with your heart can save a life. If you know a teacher, talk to them about how they can support their LGBT students-whether those students are closeted, questioning, or out and proud. Be a resource in your community. Make sure our children feel loved. Make sure our schools are safe.
It has been eight years since I lost my daughter. How many more young lives must we lose before our culture changes? No young person should ever be threatened or harmed for authentically expressing who they are. Each one of us has the power to make a difference.
For information about how to address transgender issues in schools, please check out Beyond the Binary, a joint publication by the Transgender Law Center, GSA Network and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. And if you or anyone you know is being bullied, call the Transgender Law Center for help at 415-865-0176.
Thank you and stay safe,
About Sylvia Guerrero
Sylvia is the mother of Gwen Araujo. Gwen was a vibrant transgender teenager who was murdered in Newark, California in October 2002. Sylvia honors Gwen, and transgender victims of hate crimes everywhere, by speaking out. She is an educator and an inspiration.
The Transgender Law Center (TLC) is a civil rights organization advocating for transgender communities. TLC uses direct legal services, education, community organizing and advocacy to transform California into a state that recognizes and supports the needs of transgender people and their families. Gwen Araujo was killed just months after TLC opened our doors. We were proud to represent Sylvia Guerrero in getting a posthumous court ordered name change for Gwen. TLC also worked to honor Gwen with the passage of the Gwen Araujo Justice for Victims Act which prohibits defendants from using societal bias against their victims to reduce their culpability for a crime.