Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), as well as ally organizations are condemning the brutal murder of 26-year-old Jennifer Laude Sueselback, a transgender woman, in the hands of a US marine whose identity remains undisclosed by US and Philippine officials.
According to police report, the suspect – described as having “white complexion, with marine-style cut of hair,” standing between 5’8″ and 5’10” and between 25 and 30 years old – checked in with Jennifer at the Celzone Lodge on Magsaysay Drive in Olongapo City at 11:30 PM on Saturday, October 11. Eyewitnesses reported that the suspect left the room a few minutes later. A hotel attendant found Jennifer’s body, with her head in the toilet, at 11:45 PM.
At least 1,400 US troops participating in the annual Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise were on board the USS Peleliu (LHA 5) and the USS Germantown (LSD 42) when the two ships docked in this part of the Philippines last month. A suspect was already detained aboard the USS Peleliu; while three other Marines believed to be potential witnesses were also detained as the Naval Criminal Investigative Service conducts an investigation.
“Jennifer and many like her have been suffering from violence all her life, but she did not have to die to give us a wake-up call,” Angie Umbac, president of The Rainbow Rights (R-Rights) Inc., said.
“Our deepest sympathies go out to Jennifer’s family for their loss,” said Naomi Fontanos, executive director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, a human rights advocacy organization led by transgender women in the Philippines.
Fontanos also expressed her concern that “under the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (ECDA) between the US and the Philippines, the suspect might be able to use a gay or trans panic defense and go scot free.”
In a statement naming the accused, Filipina-American women under GABRIELA USA expressed their outrage at the news of the murder of Jennifer. “The suspected murderer, US Marine Corp PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton, was last seen checking into a hotel with Jennifer in Olongapo City, Philippines. Jennifer was later found strangled to death with her head plunged in a toilet bowl. Reminiscent of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith and the historic 2005 rape case of Nicole, Pemberton, suspected of murdering Jennifer, is currently being held in detention aboard a US Navy ship instead of being turned over to Philippine authorities for proper investigation. GABRIELA USA demands accountability and justice for Jennifer’s life, as a trans woman who has fallen victim to US militarization!”
“Jennifer’s death is not only a direct impact of US military presence in the Philippines, but her brutal murder further exposes the daily vulnerability of trans women who regularly suffer systemic violence and hate crimes in a patriarchal-imperialist system,” said Pia Cortez, co-Chairperson of GABRIELA’s San Francisco chapter.
The US Embassy in Manila already released a statement expressing its condolences with the family of Jennifer, adding that the “US will continue to fully cooperate with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspect of the investigation.”
“We also call on the Philippine government to not treat this case as less important just because the victim is a transgender individual. In fact, this should even be a wake-up call for the Philippine government to do something about the situation facing many transgender people in the Philippines. Many of us are often victims of grave abuse, maltreatment and violence because of our gender identity. The government should show that it values the lives of all its citizens including those who are transgender,” Fontanos added.
“It’s a sad day for the LGBT community. I feel so sad for Jennifer’s family and loved ones. The handling of Jennifer’s case will represent how justice is served for our community,” said Geena Rocero of Gender Proud. “When Filipinos see Vice Ganda and others on national television, they think we’re all okay because we are in TV. They think that we only belong in comedy. We may be seen on national TV, but when it comes to dignified conversation of our basic human rights, the government needs to meet us where we are.”
Earlier, Dindi Tan of the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines (ATP), wrote on her Facebook wall that “this act of ruthless murder just because of a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity and expression speaks volumes about how the present societal stigma eventually gives way to violence and abuse. Jennifer’s death is a microcosm of the painful and difficult lives that transpinays have to live, which, more often than not, are regarded by the Philippine government as not an urgent human rights issue. I would like to state, time and again, that the LGBT community, particularly the transgender community, has had its share of losses and deaths because of discrimination, abuse and violence.”
Tan added: “While Jennifer’s case is just one of those… incidents of violence and crime, this barbaric killing should not be discounted by the Philippine authorities and must be resolved with expediency. We, in the Philippine transgender community, are outraged by the rising number of trans-related deaths and the Philippine government cannot just turn deaf ears to the realities on the ground.”
The Catholic Diocese of One Spirit and ECOG PHILIPPINES also expressed its condemnation of the crime. “No one has the right to kill anyone because of their gender. We pray for her family and for justice to be served,” said Rev. Fr. Regen R. Luna, SSD CDOS.
For his part, Rev. Ceejay Agbayani said that even as “LGBTS Christian Church ay nanawagan sa otoridad na parusahan at ikulong ang pumatay kay (calling for authorities to punish and jail the murderer of) Jennifer”, this heinous crime also highlights the need to pass an anti-discrimination law that will ensure that LGBT people’s human rights are protected. “Stop killing transgender people! Stop hate!”
GABRIELA USA extends its sympathies to Jennifer’s family, and “honors the lives of all trans people who have fallen victim to a system that does not value trans lives and perpetuates a culture of violence”. “Trans women like Jennifer are at a higher risk for violence because we live in a system that delegitimizes their lives,” said Irma Bajar of GABRIELA USA. “Just this summer in the US, eight trans women of color fell victim to hate crimes and murders. Although there is an increase in violence towards trans people worldwide, little is ever done to protect their lives and hold perpetrators accountable. The murder of Jennifer is clearly a hate crime committed by US military personnel, and he must be held accountable by the Philippine justice system.”
Meanwhile, Michelle Jhoie Ferraris, president and chairperson-elect of LGBT Angeles City, Pampanga said that – even as she also wants to hear the story from the side of the suspect for impartiality – “we have had a lot of hate crimes in the Philippines, but these were never really in the media and so were ignored and overlooked.” Often, she said, people see such crimes as “just another situation involving gay people, with just another dead gay person, and then… people move on. This time, however, it’s different because it involves a US Marine, and suddenly, everybody wants to be in on the action.”
Ferraris therefore cautions when talking about the attention given by the Philippine government. “Is the Philippine government really paying attention, and is finally caring and being responsible to the LGBT community; or is just showing its supposed concern this time so it will be noticed and be very popular particularly internationally? These questions also need to be answered.”
All the same, Ferraris said that “this is a perfect example of a hate crime, and the Philippine government and the Filipino people should now have a strong awareness about how hard it is to be a member of the LGBT community,” she said. “The killing, in itself, is inflaming and despicable. But I am even more alarmed that the crime was allegedly triggered by the victim’s gender identity. This case comes as a bitter reminder of the relevance and urgency of our cause to advance the recognition, equality and respect of members of the LGBT community.”
Like Agbayani, Ferraris also believes it is high time “to act for the passage of an anti-discrimination bill in the Philippines to prevent the occurrence of a similar scenario.”
CALL FOR RESPECTFUL MEDIA COVERAGE
Rocero also noted that “it’s NOW more than ever when people need to be educated that bakla and transgender are two very different identities.” This is in light of the continuing disregard of the media to respect Jennifer’s gender identity by addressing her as bakla, while also using the male pronoun (as examples, check this, this and this) to refer to her.
“Media organizations are responsible for dignified storytelling of LGBT people, especially trans individuals,” Rocero said. “Allies should be educated on this, and the mainstream media needs to understand (the importance of words) that describe our identity that ultimately affects our lived experiences, and every second of our lives.”
While a suspect was already detained, Fontanos is calling on the US Embassy to ensure that justice prevails in this case. “The US Embassy has been a vocal supporter of LGBT human rights in the Philippines, and now, more than ever, is the time for them to step up and show how genuinely committed they are to fighting for social justice for LGBT Filipinos,” she said.
GANDA Filipinas also urged Philippine authorities to sustain its efforts to advance human rights based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression (SOGIE). Recently, the Philippine Mission to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted yes to a resolution to addressing discrimination and violence against LGBT people.
Meanwhile, R-Rights joins Outrage Magazine and partners in the LGBT community to form #HateWatchPH and call for vigilance in recording the instances of discrimination resulting from cultural expectations, social stigma, and lack of State protection. “Together we can seek redress for the wrongs done to our community,” Umbac ended.
*THIS ARTICLE WAS AMENDED ON 14 OCTOBER TO INCLUDE THE STATEMENTS FROM GABRIELA USA