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Transgender Salvadoran woman mourns best friend murdered a year ago

Camila Díaz Córdova deported from US before death

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Camila Díaz Córdova was murdered near the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador on Jan. 31, 2019. The Washington Blade last week spoke exclusively with her best friend, Virginia Gómez. (Photo courtesy of Virginia Gómez)

Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender Salvadoran woman, left the house in which she lived with relatives of her best friend, Virginia Gómez, on the afternoon of Jan. 30, 2019.

Gómez, who is also a trans woman, on Jan. 25 told the Los Angeles Blade during an exclusive interview in El Salvador that her aunt the next morning realized Díaz had not returned home. Gómez said she was not initially worried, but she became increasingly concerned throughout the day because Díaz had not called or texted her.

Gómez told the Blade she called hospitals and even the morgue over the next few days in an attempt to locate Díaz. Gómez said on Feb. 7, 2019, eight days after Díaz disappeared, she learned an ambulance brought her friend to a public hospital in the Salvadoran capital of San Salvador.

Two trans rights activists were with Gómez when a doctor at the hospital told her she was critically injured when she arrived at around 5 a.m. on Jan. 31, 2019.

Gómez said the doctor told her that Díaz had serious injuries to her liver and other internal organs. Gómez told the Blade the doctor also said Díaz had likely been hit by a car.

“She had to have several surgeries not because she came in with internal bleeding, but because her vital organs were in very bad shape,” said Gómez, recalling what she said the doctor told her. “She told me they operated on her.”

Gómez began to cry when she said the doctor told her Díaz died on Feb. 3, 2019.

“It was very difficult for me when she told me that she had died,” said Gómez as she used a napkin to wipe the tears from her eyes. “I didn’t even want to believe it.”

Friday marks a year since Díaz was found on the side of a highway in Soyapango, a municipality that is just east of San Salvador.

Three Salvadoran police officers have been charged with aggravated homicide as a hate crime and depravation of liberty by an agent of authority in connection with Díaz’s murder. They are expected to go on trial next month.

‘Another killer avalanche has come’

Díaz is originally from a small town in rural El Salvador.

Gómez said Díaz’s deeply religious family disowned her because of her gender identity. Gómez also told the Blade that Díaz was attacked several times because she was trans.

Gómez said Díaz in 2014 fled to Guatemala after she barely survived a brutal attack. Gómez told the Blade that Díaz also sought refuge in Mexico several times, but returned to El Salvador after a few months.

Gómez said Díaz and another trans Salvadoran woman in early 2017 decided to travel to the U.S. Gómez said they spent several months in Mexico City, working in restaurants, before they arrived in the Mexican border city of Tijuana in June of that year, roughly five months after President Trump took office.

Gómez said Díaz on Aug. 8, 2017, asked for asylum in the U.S. Gómez told the Blade that U.S. Customs and Border Protection immediately took her into custody and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement detained her at a detention facility in California.

A judge subsequently denied Díaz’s asylum claim and the U.S. on Nov. 7, 2017, deported her back to El Salvador.

Gómez said the U.S. deported Díaz two days before her birthday. Gómez told the Blade she found out about Díaz’s deportation when she called her from El Salvador’s international airport after her flight landed.

“They deported me,” said Díaz, according to Gómez as she recounted the phone call. “She told me that yet another killer avalanche has come.”

Gómez said Díaz arrived in El Salvador wearing the same clothes she wore when she asked for asylum in the U.S. Gómez also told the Blade that Díaz said the staff at the ICE detention center where she was detained discriminated against her and other trans women.

“They told us that we were not women, that we were men,” said Díaz, according to Gómez.

Virginia Gómez is the best friend of Camila Díaz Córdova, a transgender woman who was murdered in El Salvador in January 2019 after the U.S. denied her asylum request and deported her. Gómez spoke exclusively with the Washington Blade on Jan. 25, 2020, in El Salvador. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Díaz on Jan. 29, 2019, met with Mónica Linares, executive director of Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans, a trans Salvadoran advocacy group in San Salvador, and asked for help to leave sex work. Linares told Díaz to return to her office the next day but Gómez said she “disappeared.”

“We are already at one year after her death, and it is outrageous to see how the courts have still not prosecuted her death,” Linares on Thursday told the Blade in a statement.

Ambar Alfaro, an independent trans activist who was with Gómez at the hospital when she learned Díaz had died, echoed Linares.

“A year from the date on which they attacked and practically kidnapped Camila, the only thing that I can really say is that it is clear that our country’s judicial system remains obsolete,” Alfaro told the Blade. “Beyond that there is also the feeling of impunity surrounding hate crimes, as well as with Camila’s murder.”

Díaz was ‘happy and sincere’

The State Department’s 2018 human rights report notes “public officials, including police, engaged in violence and discrimination against sexual minorities.” It also indicates LGBTQ Salvadorans have stated the National Civil Police and the Attorney General’s Office “harassed transgender and gay individuals when they reported cases of violence against LGBTI persons, including by conducting strip searches.”

Karla Aguilar, a trans Salvadoran activist, in 2017 fled to Europe because of threats she and her family received.

Johana “Joa” Medina León, another trans Salvadoran woman who worked as a private nurse, fled El Salvador because she had also been threatened and attacked because she was trans. Medina died at a hospital in El Paso, Texas, on June 1, 2019, three days after ICE released her from their custody.

Briyit Michelle Alas is one of several trans women who have been reported killed in El Salvador in recent months. President Nayib Bukele, who was elected on the same day Díaz died, has yet to publicly condemn these murders or violence based on gender identity that remains rampant in the country.

Gómez herself is in the process of seeking asylum in Canada. She asked the Blade not to publicly disclose the city in which she is currently living because she is afraid for her life.

“It is very dangerous,” said Gómez.

In the meantime, she continues to remember Díaz as “a happy and sincere” person.

“She was noble,” said Gómez. “She wasn’t a bad-hearted person.”

From left: Virginia Gómez and Camila Díaz Córdova (Photo courtesy of Virginia Gómez)
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Kentucky

Another Trans person confirmed murdered this year- USAF vet & Mother

Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely

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Cris Blehar, (Family Photo)

MEADE COUNTY, Ky. – Another Trans person has been confirmed murdered this year bringing the deadly total to 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021 according to a tally kept by the Human Rights Campaign.

Cris Blehar, a 65-year-old white transgender woman, mother, and U.S. Air Force veteran, was discovered stabbed and shot to death by Meade County sheriff’s deputies who had responded to her rural home on Woodland Road in the Flaherty area. Deputies had been dispatched to perform a welfare check from an unidentified person concerned about Blehar.

The Elizabethtown, Kentucky, News-Enterprise newspaper reported that the Kentucky State Police had made an arrest in the case only a few hours after Blehar’s body was found of Vine Grove resident Tyler J. Petty, 18.

Tyler J. Petty, 18
(Mugshot: Meade County Sheriff’s Department)

“There was no relationship between the victim and the suspect. We believe he worked for her,” said Kentucky State Police Trooper Nicholas Hale in an email to the News-Enterprise. Petty was arrested and brought to KSP Post 4 and was interviewed about the case. Police say he admitted to killing Blehar. A trial date has been set for June 2022.

The murder in this rural area about an hour Southwest of Louisville on May 19, 2021, was brought to the attention of the Human Rights Campaign this week when Blehar’s cousin Mark Stephens contacted HRC to ensure that she was “remembered, honored, and counted” as a member of the transgender community. 

In a statement to HRC, Mark Stephens said;

“If there is one thing to know about Cris, it was that she fought fiercely to define her life as SHE wanted. Whether it was her military service, her 20+ year career in the airline industry, or her post retirement decision to buy a farm & start a family of her own. She lived life to the fullest and wanted everyone around her to live their best life as well. Growing up ‘different’ in Kentucky is certainly no easy task, something we shared in addition to being cousins, and she tackled it with the passion and zeal that only she could have. Her friends will always remember her infectious personality & her unmistakable laugh. She loved others passionately and fiercely, none more than her own son, Maverick.”

Blehar’s son Maverick Thompson paid tribute to her, writing:

“Cris was an amazing mother and a wonderful person. She had so much love and brought a smile to many. She had a hilarious sense of humor that will live on through those that knew her. She will be sorely missed!”

According to her obituary, Blehar was a former law enforcement officer in the U.S. Air Force and retired from United/Continental Airlines. She also worked as an Uber driver and loved animals and bowling.

HRC has officially recorded 49 deaths of transgender and gender non-conforming people in 2021, more than in any year since we began tracking this violence in 2013.

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Maine

Victory Fund honors Maine House speaker in D.C.

Ryan Fecteau is gay Catholic University alum

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Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau accepts the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award at the Victory Fund International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C. on Dec. 4, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

WASHINGTON — The Victory Fund on Saturday honored Maine House Speaker Ryan Fecteau on the last day of its International LGBTQ Leaders Conference in D.C.

Fecteau — an openly gay Catholic University of America alum — won a seat in the Maine House of Representatives in 2014. He became the chamber’s speaker in 2018.

“Hate and intolerance will not derail us,” said Fecteau after Florida state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith presented him with the Tammy Baldwin Breakthrough Award, which is named after U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.). “Our community will not be intimidated.”

The Victory Fund on Friday honored Guatemalan Congressman Aldo Dávila, a gay man who is living with HIV.

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West Hollywood

Unprovoked attack in WeHo may be latest in a string of violent crimes

McGrath spent two weeks in the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries due to injuries that doctors told him were caused by a blunt object

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File photo of LASD deputies making an arrest -unrelated- (Photo Credit: County of Los Angeles)

WEST HOLLYWOOD – After an evening out with friends in West Hollywood at the Abbey on November15, Matthew McGrath found himself in hospital the next day with a fractured jaw and his wallet and mobile phone missing.

According to McGrath, who has lived in WeHo for five years, he was walking home along San Vicente Boulevard when he heard “some slurs, some profanity.” “I’m not exactly clear on what, [happened next] but sort of a few minutes later, I just felt a really blunt force to my head, blacked out and was knocked unconscious,” he told KTLA.

McGrath spent two weeks in the hospital and underwent multiple surgeries due to injuries that doctors told him were caused by a blunt object KTLA also noted.

Matthew McGrath via GoFundMe page

He said that he has filed a report with the West Hollywood Sheriff’s substation about the assault and theft but as of Friday had not received a response.

KTLA also reported that the night after McGrath was assaulted, a person was beaten and stabbed on Santa Monica Boulevard. David Cook, 44, was arrested for that stabbing last month. There were also two similar attacks involving a different man using a baseball bat and a boxcutter on Nov. 18 resulted in another arrest last month the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station said in a statement posted to the webpage for the LASD.

“I’ve always felt safe in this neighborhood,” McGrath told KTLA. He observed that although his attack was unprovoked given the other cases and arrests the timing seems suspicious. “We get a crime here or there in West Hollywood, but I have never heard of it happening multiple days in a row,” he said. “Similar assaults, similar attacks, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.”

GoFundMe page has been created to help McGrath.

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WeHo attack leaves victim shaken, could be part of larger crime trend

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