#JusticeForJennifer: Filipino Communities Organize National Day of Outrage Friday, October 24 in Response to Killing of Jennifer Laude

“The dead cannot cry out for justice. It is a duty of the living to do so for them.” — Lois McMaster Bujold

In the Philippines, the killing of a transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, has ignited calls for justice. Her death became a breaking point for activists who have been pushing for government action to address gender-based violence against women and the LGBT community. Jennifer died of asphyxiation due to drowning on October 12 inside an Olongapo hotel room. U.S. Marine Pfc Joseph Scott Pemberton has been arrested in the killing.

Activists have designated Friday, Oct. 24—Jennifer’s burial day—a “National Day of Outrage” with protests planned across the country around this case.

In response to the killing and a history of violence, LGBT groups are demanding more protection and passage of inclusive anti-discrimination and gender recognition laws.

Angie Umbac of the Rainbow Rights Project told the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC): “Jennifer’s death is a culmination of a life of violence. The government failed to provide interventions and to put an end to social stigma. This is a time to reflect on our work as activists and recharge our drive for equality and social justice," she said.

Rainbow Rights Project and IGLHRC recently studied violence against lesbians, bisexual women and trans people in five Asian countries, including the Philippines. The report documents high levels of violence experienced by LBT People and highlights the ways the government allows this violence to go on with no consequences.

While women’s groups are responding to her killing in solidarity to end gender-based violence, Jennifer’s death has also renewed calls asserting national sovereignty and jurisdiction over American soldiers committing crimes in the Philippines. Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) the United States retains custody of servicemen while the case is tried. This provision has been criticized for more than a decade, since U.S. Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was acquitted on rape charges filed against him in 2005 by Nicole, a Filipina who was allegedly raped and left on the side of road by Smith. Smith remained in custody of the U.S. Embassy even after he was convicted and sentenced to jail by Filipino authorities. He was later acquitted when Nicole submitted a letter recanting her allegations and accepted monetary compensation from Smith.

“Jennifer is our daughter and we love and accept her,” Julita Laude, Jennifer’s mother, told Dindi Tan of the Association of Transgenders in the Philippines (ATP). Tan met Jennifer’s family during a fact-finding visit in Olongapo. “Unlike the case of Nicole who was raped but still alive, my daughter is dead and no amount of money will replace that.”

Pemberton is under the joint security of the United States and the Philippines but in the sole custody of the United States. Activists want the U.S. government to comply with the 2009 Philippine Supreme Court ruling that service members must serve any sentence that is meted out to them in the Philippines.

With the start of court proceedings against Pemberton, LGBT and women’s groups have organized protest actions. “Justice for Jennifer,” a coalition of women’s, human rights, and LGBT groups, plans a sustained community effort and support to Jennifer’s family’s legal team.

Women's rights and LGBT activists organized a press conference, which began a national call for Justice for Jennifer. Photo courtesy Association of Transgenders in the Philippines (ATP)

Chang Jordan of the Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau (WLB) and Philwomen on ASEAN, said: “We have to see how the case situates itself as a form of gender-based violence perpetrated against a transwoman, in the context of both the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement; and the U.S.-Philippines relations. We need to work together as we seek justice for Jennifer and for all women survivors of violence.”

TLF Share Collective is spearheading a National Day of Outrage on Friday, October 24 to demand justice and discuss strategies to remedy violence and discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender expression. Rallies will be held in Quezon City and in cities throughout the Philippines. Organizers are also planning solidarity actions in Malaysia, Thailand, Budapest and the Netherlands.

Marianne Møllmann, Director of Programs at the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, said: “IGLHRC joins the call for justice, that this heinous crime against Jennifer Laude and all victims of gender-based violence, will not end in impunity. That justice will be served by ensuring the perpetrator of this crime will be punished.  We call on the United States and the Philippines government to guarantee due process and transparency and to ensure a measure of collective reparations and proactive due diligence in preventing future violence.” 

Jennifer will be buried in Zambales, Olongapo.