Crime of Passion or Lie to the Nation: The murder of non-binary Mexican Magistrate Ociel Baena

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“There is nothing else to say… it was a crime of passion.”

Jesús Ociel Baena Saucedo, the first openly non-binary magistrate in Latin America, was found murdered alongside their partner Dorian Daniel Nieves Herrera on November 13, 2023, in Aguascalientes, Mexico. In less than 24 hours, their death was shelved and disparaged as “a crime of passion.” Mexican authorities came to this inconsistent conclusion by claiming to have found evidence that Baena’s partner had committed the murder and that there was no evidence of a third party. Yet, the dismissal of further investigation comes as no surprise in a country as impune and corrupt as Mexico. In 2022, only one percent of all committed crimes were reported, investigated and resolved. Correspondingly, the police’s murder-suicide narrative was quickly disputed by family and friends. 

Baena’s activism for the rights of the LGBTQIA+ community led them to make history as the first non-binary person to assume a judicial position and to be given a non-binary passport, national identification, and master’s degree. Their murder portrays a state-media-netizen-sponsored LGBTphobia — a sociopolitical umbrella that tolerates the alarming rate of LGBTQIA+ violent deaths in Latin America and the Caribbean. These murders scream a blunt message — LGBTQIA+ individuals must hide their sexuality and identities in exchange for staying alive. Such dehumanizing discourse is found in many public social media posts informing of Baena’s murder. Thus, despite the X — formerly Twitter — user’s bold statement, how much is there to say about this crime (not) of passion?

“So is it femicide or non-binary-cide?”

As mentioned above, another X user depicts how hate does not end even in death. Not only does the remark ooze derogatory sarcasm by appropriating sexism and LGBTphobia, but it discloses a pervasive cultural phenomena of stigmatization, prejudice, and discrimination against diverse sexual orientations and gender identities in Latin America and the Caribbean.1 The origin of said bigotry can be traced to European colonization’s crackdown on indigenous sexualities and the Catholic binary gaze.2 Subsequently, the persecution of cis-heteronormative dissidents prevailed, and outlived the violent authoritarian regimes of the twentieth century. Yet resistance prospered in the 1970s and 1980s, breaking through the oppressive system.3 Latin American LGBTQIA+ associations spearheaded the most improvement of diversity rights and policies outside of the North Atlantic.4 In 2016, Latin America (excluding the Caribbean) had one of the most progressive legislation and policies towards LGBTQIA+ individuals. For instance, the decriminalization of homosexuality, improvement of anti-discrimination statutes, and right to serve in the military.5

Nonetheless, these legal shields have not sufficed to halt — nor correctly count — the number of LGBTQIA+ murders. The first network to do so,  Sin Violencia LGBTI, recorded a total of 1,300 lives violently taken from 2014 to 2019 in nine Latin American countries. Notably, two of the following regional factors worsen such vulnerability to murder. On the one hand, LGBTQIA+ people have not remained unscathed from macro criminality patterns, as Latin America and the Caribbean are some of the most unequal and violent regions in the world. The second factor is the increasingly powerful conservative opposition to the expansion of LGBTQIA+ rights.6 So, is it macro criminality or violent prejudice?

“Enough about the assassination of these perverts, there are more important stuff to attend to in this country.”

This is just one example of the kinds of harassment and threats Ociel Baena often received on social media. Accordingly, Magistrate Baena Saucedo was assigned personal state protection four months before their assassination. This happened right after the assassination of LGBTQIA+ activist Ulises Nava, who was shot after attending Mexico’s first Litigation Congress for Rainbow Quotas with Baena. Nava suffered a hate crime pervasive in Mexico, which is second only to Brazil in the number of hate crimes committed against LGBTQIA+ people. Disregarding this nationwide fact, the state prosecutors in Baena’s case offered a hurried, undignifying, ignorant conclusion to explain their murder: a crime of passion. Despite these statements, when interviewed by El País, the local prosecutor stated that social media is being considered as a line of investigation to indicate a hate crime and that they are not closing the door to this possibility in any way. Somehow, the door appears semi-closed by the publicized narrative.

Wilfrido Salazar, legal advisor for the Community for Diversity, Rights, and Citizenship (CODDEC) in Aguascalientes, related the rash scenario reached by the state regarding Baena’s death to the frequent crimes of passion discourse of the  1970s and 1980s , therefore exhibiting the modernization of strategies to suppress LGBTQIA+ rights. Such setbacks are enabled by a system of oppression composed of the state, media, and netizens. They abide by the secondary victimization suffered by LGBTQIA+ individuals like Magistrate Baena. First, the state plays a major role in creating biased public narratives. In Ociel Baena’s case, the State did so by abruptly establishing a crime of passion, overlooking the Magistrate’s gender identity and previous threats. Additionally, Latin American politics are entrenched to a greater extent by politically engaged evangelical groups that double-victimize using an opposition to gender ideology.7

Next in the system is the media. Latin American and international press such as BBC News, El País, La Jornada, El Universal, Milenio, and AP News, to name a few, re-victimize Baena using LGBTphobic language. Articles combine or at least do one of the following gender aggressions: putting commas around to set apart their pronouns or non-binary identification, misgendering the magistrate with “he/him” pronouns, and even italicizing inclusive language as to contrast or draw attention.

The aforementioned study is the only cross-cultural, systematic measure of the challenges embedded in the region. And notably, the study only focuses on homophobia, not on the entire LGBTQIA+ spectrum. Consequently, the cultural aspect of LGBTphobia is yet to be academically published. Still, it is possible to find cultural manifestations of the cis heteronorm in the categorization of Ociel Baena’s murder as a crime of passion.  First, Spanish and Portuguese are gendered languages, which transmit a core foundation to how Latins perceive the LGBTQIA+ community. Examples range from press misgendering to the mockery and dismissal of inclusive language and pronouns on social media. Such incidents play into what Miskolci analyzes as the Latin American crusade against gender ideology, polarizing societies into good citizens adverse to feminists, homosexuals, and trans people.8

Netizens, or active internet users, complete the tripartite dehumanizing LGBTphobic system. While attitudes towards the LGBTQIA+ population have favorably changed, prejudice has persisted.9 Anonymity, confirmation bias, and an unquestioned cis-heteronormative mindset independently aid in the propagation of LGBTphobia. Findings by Chilean psychologists Jaime Barrientos and Joaquín Bahamondes relate the pervasive non-acceptance, stigmatization, and discrimination to sociocultural characteristics of Latin Americans.10

It may seem as if oppression, fear, and discrimination will inevitably spread into the region and quell the voices of LGBTQIA+ voices. This was the prevailing atmosphere in the early morning of November 13, 2023, when news of Ociel Baena and partner Dorian Daniel Nieves’  violent murder first spread. A heavy-hearted LGBTQIA+ community experienced fear and grief beyond the accustomed, as hatred appeared even in death. Notwithstanding, as Ociel once said, “We all fear for our lives. It could have been any of us. We’re dismayed, of course, we’re afraid… but we’ll be more afraid if we stop raising our voices, if we continue pretending that nothing is happening.” The resistance showed up; thousands protested for justice the same day in Mexico City.

Thereafter, two initiatives for the Ociel Baena Law were presented by transgender federal congressperson Salma Luévano, and sexual diversity associations. This law seeks to prevent and punish hate crimes in Mexico in order to create a gender and sexual diversity perspective in legislation. The Ociel Baena Law is yet to pass from the analytics committees to Congress since it was presented in December 2022, hence it was promoted as a municipal law. As of January 2024, the initiative is simultaneously built in the state of Puebla, and at a federal level. If approved, the law would punish LGBTphobic, xenophobic, racist, and other violent discourses in social media with prison ranging from 15 days to six months and fines up to $183 USD. Additionally, the initiative could raise incarceration penalties from 40 to 70 years for those who commit murder motivated by the victim’s sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, sexual characteristics, race, religion, disability, ethnicity, and nationality.

While the local prosecutors still maintained their initial versions when interviewed in January 2024, and even called for international or national organizations to take over and prove them wrong, justice continues to be demanded by a series of LGBTQIA+ collectives and Baena’s family. So, to address the X comment above: no. There is not even close to enough when it comes to supporting these inspiring dissidents, and perhaps addressing such rooted cultural hatred can change something for Mexico, and the region.

No fear, no forgetting, with pride: forward

LGBTphobia has led to uncountable loss of life which, despite embedding fear, has also mobilized the LGBTQIA+ community and its allies. The 88 legal protections and anti-discrimination laws portray such mobilization for rights in Latin America and the Caribbean. While the mechanisms are lacking for now, the goal is that these legal frameworks could one day be compiled into an internationally-recognized treaty. Latin America and the Caribbean owe recognition, dignification, memory, and more reparations to those with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities. The tripartite-supported discourse nor the hate tweets weaken the LGBTQIA+ movement. Rest in power, Ociel Baena. Rest in assurance that your fight endures.

References:

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  1. Barrientos, Jaime., Bahamondes, Joaquín. “Homosexuality Justification and Social Distance: A Cross-Cultural Approach from Latin America Using World Values Survey Data.” In Latinx Queer Psychology, by Chaparro, R.A., Prado, M.A.M., 127-139. Springer, Cham., 2022.
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  2. Bisso Schmidt, Benito., Mascarenhas Neto, Rubens. ‘History and Memory of Dissident Sexualities from Latin America: An Analysis of the Foundation, Current Activities, and Projects of AMAI LGBTQIA+.” The International Journal of Information, Diversity, and Inclusion 5, 4 (2021). https://doi.org/10.33137/ijidi.v5i4.36914
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  3. Ibid.
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  4. Corrales, Javier. “The Expansion of LGBT Rights in Latin America and the Backlash.” In The Oxford Handbook of Global LGBT and Sexual Diversity Politics, edited by Michael J. Bosia, Sandra M. McEvoy, and Momin Rahman., 185-200. Oxford Academic, 2019.
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  5. Ibid.
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  6. Ibid.
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  7. Ibid.
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  8. Richard Miskolci. “The Moral Crusade on ‘Gender Ideology’: notes on conservative political alliances in Latin America.” Journal of the Brazilian Sociological Society 4, 2 (2018): 44-59. http://dx.doi.org/10.20336/sid.v4i2.99.
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  9. Barrientos, Jaime., Bahamondes, Joaquín. “Homosexuality Justification and Social Distance: A Cross-Cultural Approach from Latin America Using World Values Survey Data.” In Latinx Queer Psychology, by Chaparro, R.A., Prado, M.A.M., 127-139. Springer, Cham., 2022.
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  10. Ibid.
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Author

Andrea is a student at Tecnológico de Monterrey (Class of 2024) in Mexico studying International Relations with a minor in Peace, Conflict, and Security. Andrea is a member of the YRIS international correspondents program in the 2023-2024 cohort and has academic interests in gender, transitional justice, anti-corruption, and human rights.

psanabriaandrea@gmail.com