Jennifer Laude: Verdict in transgender woman’s death is a travesty of justice

Jennifer Laude. (Photo: Facebook)
Jennifer Laude. (Photo: Facebook)

Jillian Page
LGBT Perspectives editor

QUEBEC — “It wasn’t the U.S. Marine’s fault. He was raped by someone pretending to be a woman. If you go around trying to rape people by tricking them with cosmetic surgery, you will have problems. I probably would have done the same thing Pemberton did . . .”

That is essentially what many are saying — see reader’s comments to a Vice report — about the death of trans woman Jennifer Laude after a Philippines judge sentenced U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton yesterday to 6 to 12 years in prison for what she called a “homicide.”

Not murder. Homicide. There’s a difference, you see, even if the result is the same: the life of a person is snatched away unnecessarily by another.

Even the judge in this case seemed to suggest Jennifer was responsible for what transpired in a hotel room in Manila in October 2014, after Pemberton picked up Jennifer in a bar.

Said Regional Trial Court Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde in her verdict, according to Asia One: “Pemberton was so enraged and incensed by the deceased’s misrepresentation [that Laude was a woman] and in the heat of passion he arm-locked the deceased, dragged her inside the bathroom and dunked [her] head into the toilet bowl.”

So Jennifer wasn’t really a woman, you see, and she tricked Pemberton.

I’m surprised that Pemberton was found guilty at all. And I suspect he may not have been if there hadn’t been a lot negative publicity surrounding the case, and worldwide outrage.

As reported in an Associated Press article on the Montreal Gazette website Dec. 1, “The killing sparked anger in the Philippines and reignited calls by left-wing groups and nationalists for an end to America’s military presence in the country at a time when the U.S. is reasserting its dominance in Asia and Manila has turned to Washington for support amid an escalating territorial dispute with China.”

The judge said “she downgraded the murder charge to homicide because conditions such as cruelty and treachery had not been proven,” according to the AP report.

Said the Laude family’s private lawyer, Harry Roque: “This is a bittersweet victory because it is not murder. If what he did isn’t cruelty, I don’t know what is.”

Indeed. Pemberton could have simply walked away. And as one reader named Gilles pointed out in a comment to the Vice article:  “A blow job is still a blow job.”

Note to the judge and others: Jennifer was A WOMAN, and a beautiful one at that. Her path to womanhood is irrelevant, and what may have still been between her legs is irrelevant. To suggest that she was misrepresenting herself and pretending to  be a woman is disingenuous at the least.

Actually, it smacks of ignorance and transphobia, and it’s the kind of hate we hear from outspoken right-wing fundamentalists in the United States.

That’s the message the judge delivered to the world — to all those men on the prowl in bars — with her verdict: a trans woman is not a real woman, and if you kill one because you are uncomfortable with her path to womanhood, it’s understandable, if not OK. Yes, you might be punished. You’ll even be jailed, but you’ll be released a lot sooner than if you had slain a cisgender female sex worker.

Pemberton is being credited with time already spent in detention. In other words, his sentence is essentially 5 to 11 years, and who knows when he could be paroled for behaving himself in prison. The question of where he will serve his time is still up in the air: the headline over the Asia One article reads “U.S.defies court order to jail convicted Marine in the Philippines.”

It’s also unclear if there will be any appeals in this case, by either the prosecution or the defence.

But one thing is clear: the life of Jennifer Laude has been snuffed out, and her family is grieving for her.

One other thing is clear, in this writer’s opinion: the verdict is a travesty of justice at a time when violence against transgender women is on the rise in the United States and other countries.

Justice has not been served.

Related link:

Jennifer Laude: We will not forget her

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