Friends Call for Justice in Murder of East Harlem Transgender Woman
HARLEM — Camila Guzman moved to New York from Chile nine years ago so that she could live openly as a transgender woman.
"She would say that back in her country it wasn't accepted and her family didn't accept it," said Flor Bermudez, a staff attorney at Lambda Legal who knew Guzman for seven years.
"She came here for a better life," another long-time friend, Ruby Chavez, said through a translator.
That's why Bermudez, Chavez and dozens of Guzman's friends said they were still in shock after Guzman was found stabbed to death in her apartment at 170 E. 110th St. on Aug. 1, a little over a week after the LGBT community celebrated the first day of legalized gay marriage.
According to police, Guzman was found lying face down on her bed with multiple stab wounds to her back. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Police have yet to announce a motive, name any suspects or make any arrests in the case.
Last Thursday night, Guzman's friends and members of the LGBTQ community gathered outside of her apartment to call for an end to violence against members of their community, particularly transgender women of color.
Large pictures of Guzman were flanked by candles and white roses as participants chanted "We're not going to take it anymore," and "We want justice." They shed tears as they remembered Guzman as a loving person who was brave enough to leave her homeland to live in freedom.
"She came to the United States and she was herself. She lived her dreams," said M. Dru Levasseur, Transgender Rights Attorney for Lambda Legal. "And she should not have been killed for that."
Violence against LGBTQ individuals is on the rise. In 2010, the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs documented 27 anti-LGBTQ murders, a 23 percent increase from the 22 murders they documented in 2009. Seventy percent of those victims were of color.
Ejeris Dixon, deputy director of community organizing and public advocacy for the New York Anti-Violence Project, said that almost half the murders, 44 percent, committed nationwide against members of the LGBTQ community in 2010 were against transgender women.
"We are here to remember Camila but to also ask that transgender women be respected by our community, by everyone," Chavez said. "We know in our hearts this crime was based on discrimination against transgender women," she added.
Friends say that Guzman sold peanuts from a push cart to earn a living. Even with her own struggles, she lovingly embraced other members of the LGBTQ community, Guzman friend Carlos Juan Vargos said through a translator.
"Camila was like a sister to me. She provided incredible support," said Vargos. "We want justice."
The last time she saw her alive, Chavez said she and Guzman were just hanging out, drinking soda and telling stories.
"When I found out I went crazy," said Chavez. "It was so surprising because she didn't have any enemies. She didn't have any issues or problems with anyone."
Also joining the vigil were state Sen. Jose Serrano and East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito. City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is openly gay, sent a representative as did Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
"As much as we think we've become accommodating as a society we still have hate," said Serrano.
Mark-Viverito said East Harlem should be declared a "hate-free zone."
"We will not accept anyone being discriminated against because of who they are," said Mark-Viverito.
The road to the end of violence against transgender women begins with tolerance and understanding. Chavez called for the United States to adopt sexual orientation as a reason for granting political asylum. Vargos' mother urged parents to accept their LGBTQ children.
"If your son or daughter is LGBT, please accept them as they are because the violence begins at home," Bermudez said while holding her daughter.
Guzman's bravery in living her life the way she wanted to should be celebrated, speakers said.
"As a transgender woman I say why do we have to live in fear," said Melissa Sandel, a prevention specialist with the Community Healthcare Network's Transgender Family Program.
"We are gathered here to do what Camila lived for which is to fight for dignity."