gwen smith

In a courtroom in Weld County, Colorado, a familiar drama is unfolding: The trail into the death of a transgender person is beginning.

This time it’s Angie Zapata. She was an 18-year-old transgender woman who was brutally murdered in July of last year. Two of Zapata’s sisters found her in her apartment. He face has been bashed in with a blunt object—likely a fire extinguisher. There was blood pooled around her head, and Police Investigator Clay Buckingham described Zapata’s forehead as “caved in.” Her killer had beaten her repeatedly, even resuming his attacks after attempting to clean up the scene of the murder.

The suspect, Allen Andrade, is facing a first degree murder charge as well as the first use of Colorado’s transgender inclusive hate crime statue. He also faces charges for motor vehicle theft and identity theft.

Zapata and Andrade met via a social networking site. According to prosecutors, the two of them had passed some 700 messages between each other. According to the defense, Andrade is the real victim, as he “snapped” when he discovered that Zapata was born male.

If all this sounds familiar, well, it should. This is the basic script for most anti-transgender murders.

William Palmer took Chanelle Pickett home in 1995, and “snapped” when he discovered she was transgender. Never mind the fact that he met her in a bar frequented by transgender people or that he called Pickett “the best-looking pre-op transsexual I’ve ever seen.” just hours before the murder.

Jason Cazares, Jaron Nabors, Michael Magidson, and Jose Merel met Gwen Araujo in August of 2002 while on a “beer run.” On that night in August, Nabors, Cazares, and Magidson speculated that Araujo might have been transsexual. Yet these same people claimed that they “snapped” in October of that year, beating and strangling Araujo, then dumping her body an hour’s drive from the scene of the crime.

These are just two of hundreds of cases, that all sound the same as what is playing out in Colorado right now. Over and over those of us who are transgender get to hear how we’re the ones who caused this, and it was our “deception” that forced these poor innocent people to brutally murder us.

Andrade would like you to believe that he was simply overwhelmed by his urges. In the words of his defense attorney, Bradley Martin, “You will hear him say, ‘It happened so fast and so hard, I couldn’t stop it.’ “

Much like Palmer, Cazares, Nabors, Magidson, Merel and so many others, Andrade can also not claim ignorance. For one, Andrade and Zapata went together to a traffic court hearing in which Zapata was identified by her birth name and gender. Zapata’s sister, Monica Murguia, has also stated that Zapata made it a habit to “out” herself to people she intended to get to know.

After the crime, Andrade ransacked the apartment, and took Zapata’s purses. He gave those to his girlfriend as a gift. This is not the work of someone who “just snapped.” He seemed to know fairly well what he was doing.

At one point, Andrade also told his girlfriend that “It’s not like I went up to a school teacher and shot her in the head . . . or I killed a straight, law-abiding citizen.” In times previous to the murder, he had made several derogatory comments about gay, lesbian and transgender people. It seems obvious that he had an issue from the get go—so why would he have even gone to traffic court with Zapata? It simply does not add up.

Of course, the fact that he was out having a sexual encounter with Angie Zapata even though he already had a girlfriend also tells me a bit about this guy. For some reason, I suspect he doesn’t consider oral sex to be “real” or has some other excuse for his bad behavior.

It is a travesty that we see the “trans panic” defense being used yet again. Frankly, this is 2009. Transgender people have existed for centuries, and have been fairly well-known in popular culture since the mid 1950s. In the last decade, we’ve become commonplace in the media and elsewhere. It’s not like we’re that big a surprise to anyone but the most sheltered people, and Allen Andrade is not one of them.

Yet Andrade and his legal team want people to believe that he simply had no idea.

The defense is also spending a lot of time using Zapata’s birth name and gender, and pointing out details such as Zapata’s use of silicon gel bra inserts. They’re trying to do their best to paint that picture of Zapata-as-deceptor, even while Zapata’s own family makes it clear that Angie Zapata was Angie Zapata to them. Much like Gwen Araujo was Gwen Araujo to her family, or Chanelle Pickett was Chanelle Pickett to her sister.

According to a police affidavit, Andrade told his girlfriend some time after the murder that “gay things need to die.” To me, that’s where the buck stops. That is not a statement of someone who “snapped”. That is what an unrepentant killer says to justify his crime. That is what this killer said, this man who now lets his lawyer try to paint him as the victim of a deception.

In a courtroom in Weld County, Colorado, a familiar drama is unfolding: The trail into the death of a transgender person is beginning. Again, our community cries out for justice, and the right to live.

Gwen Smith will light a candle for Angie. You can find her on the web at www.gwensmith.com

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