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News Analysis

Pride in Mourning: On the Death of Transgender Activist Roxsana Hernández in an ICE Detention Center

June 13, 2018

A photo of Roxsana Hernández at a San Francisco vigil in her honor

A photo of Roxsana Hernández at a San Francisco vigil in her honor (Credit: Daniela Quintanar)


It is Pride season in San Francisco, and the city has adorned Market Street with rainbow flags. Millions of tourists flock to the city at this time of year to witness the "gay mecca" in all its glory. However, what does "Pride" mean to other LGBT folks, such as our undocumented transgender sisters, during these critical times under the reign of Trump?

Pride is much more than the corporate capitalist fantasy of young white gay men prancing around in Andrew Christian underwear at the parade: It's about honoring our ancestors, such as Marsha P. Johnson, who fought against the militarization of police. She knew that police terror had to stop. We have lost so many people at the hands of police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers because, let's be honest, these are military machines of the same cloth, determined to terrorize and murder our marginalized communities.

Roxsana Hernández, an HIV-positive Honduran trans woman, died on May 25 inside a detention center in the custody of U.S. immigration officials due to the neglect and apathy of the officers detaining her. She was only 33 years old and had attempted the arduous journey to the U.S. three times; she had been deported on all three occasions. What does it mean to lose a trans sister on the eve of Pride because she was denied health services and left to die alone of HIV complications in a detention center? Where is the Pride in that?

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Roxsana relentlessly fought for her life. She made her last attempt to cross the border with a Central American caravan consisting of 1,200 people traveling mainly from Honduras. Pueblo Sin Fronteras, a grassroots organization committed to sheltering migrants in transit, organized this caravan. This organization mobilized a group of Central Americans to cross the Mexican and U.S. border together so as to protect them from the dangers that come with the journey.

Due to the U.S.'s militarized borders, this journey is a tragic one for many Central Americans. Claudia Gomez, a 20-year-old indigenous woman from Guatemala who identified as Mam, lost her life to a border patrol officer's bullet. She was shot on May 23, just two days before the death of our Honduran trans sister, Roxsana. Girls and LGBT folks are especially vulnerable because they become easy targets for human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

The LGBT communities in Central America are some of the more terrorized political/social groups on the continent. According to Reuters, "In Honduras, at least 264 LGBT people have been killed since 2009." This type of persecution is driving hundreds of LGBT people to flee north; only then can they try to avoid gang violence and discrimination, as well as seek better HIV services.

Victoria Castro, health educator for El/La Para TransLatinas, attended a vigil for Roxsana Hernández in San Francisco, and said that denying health services to a trans woman simply because she is in a detention center is inhumane. She also shared that trans women need better health services and better access to HIV medicine, which is why they risk their lives to make that journey to the U.S. in the first place. Their situation is a catch-22, because they either run the risk of dying in their home country or face dangers on their journey to a country that might not even support them.

A photo of Roxsana Hernández at a San Francisco vigil in her honor

Attendees at the vigil for Roxsana Hernández in San Francisco (Credit: Daniela Quintanar)


Victoria was born and raised in Ahuachapán, El Salvador -- a northern region in the highlands just south of the Guatemalan border. She knows first-hand what discrimination looks like for trans women living in Central America and strongly identifies with Roxsana's story. Victoria also wants the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community to understand that their struggle as migrant trans women is also our struggle. We need to unite and be stronger together. Victoria expects the lesbian, gay, and bisexual community to stand alongside the trans community in seeking justice, especially with Pride just around the corner. She expects people to march alongside the transgender community this Pride season and to show solidarity with its struggle.

The death of Roxsana has made an impact on the lives of trans women all over Latin America. For example, Alexandra De Ruiz, an activist born in Mexico but raised in California, organized a vigil in honor of Roxsana. De Ruiz was a founder of El/La in San Francisco before moving back Mexico City, where she now works as both an academic and activist. This past Wednesday, people transnationally united to honor Roxsana, and Mexico City was one of the cities where activists organized a community response to her death. In the press release that was sent out to the Mexico City media, De Ruiz and other organizers, such as Abigail Madariaga, declared:

The transgender community in Mexico City is responding to the crimes committed by ICE after they denied medical services to Roxsana Hernández, allowing her to die. She was a transgender woman who joined the Central American caravan coming from Honduras and who was living with HIV…. We reject the Trump administration and ICE, as well as the U.S. Congress. We demand justice for Roxsana, along with any other migrant who has died at the hands of the border patrol.

The death of Roxsana Hernández has stirred a wave of rage among the LGBTQ community, in particular our migrant trans sisters who can empathize with Roxsana's story. Jennicet Eva Gutierrez, another trans activist, who is located in Los Angeles, has helped create two hashtags in honor of Roxsana -- #JusticeForRoxana and #AbolishICE. As we march and remember why are proud of our multi-faceted differences, let us also remember our trans sisters who have had to die in the hands of these institutions. Their deaths are not in vain. Let us march with our trans community and show them that we are here every step of the way.

Roxsana Hernández presente!

Giuliani Alvarenga is a UC Berkeley alumnus who double majored in English and Gender & Women's Studies. He is a Sidley Austin Pre-Law Scholar and wrapping up his two-year clerkship with Munger, Tolles, & Olson before he begins law school.


Related Stories

If Silence=Death, Where Is the HIV Community's Voice Resisting the War Against Immigrants in the United States?
Rates of HIV Are Rising Among Latinx Gay Men in the U.S. Are Anti-Immigration Policies to Blame?
Review: The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson Is Trans Film Noir
More on U.S. Immigration and HIV/AIDS


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