Honoring Paloma Vazquez, a Latina Trans Woman Remembered by Her Community

by Violet Lhant

Paloma Vazquez, a 29-year-old Latina transgender woman, was a member of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas, an organization for Latina trans women in Texas. On Feb. 26, 2022, she was fatally shot in Houston, Texas. Paloma’s death is at least the 6th violent killing of a transgender or gender non-conforming person in 2022.

We say “at least” because too often these deaths go unreported — or misreported. In 2021, despite limitations in reporting, HRC officially recorded the largest number of fatal trans violence incidents for a second consecutive year since we began tracking this violence in 2013. This included eight Black or Latina trans women, two of whom, Iris Santos and Martina Caldera, were from Houston. Last month we also recorded the death of Cypress Ramos, a Latina trans woman from Lubbock, Texas.

Ana Andrea Molina, the founder of Organización Latina de Trans en Texas, remembered her on social media, writing “Vuela alto Paloma y que no te alcance nunca más el odio de este mundo. Descansa en paz.”

Fly high Paloma and may the hatred of this world never reach you again. Rest in peace.”

Ana Andrea Molina, Organización Latina de Trans en Texas

Activists held a Justice for Paloma rally at Houston City Hall on March 3. According to Organización Latina de Trans en Texas, Vazquez had immigrated to the U.S. from Latin America six months ago to escape transphobic violence. Her friend remembered her, saying “She had just moved into her new apartment and was very excited about decorating.” Another friend reacted to Vazquez’s death by calling for dignity for transgender people, stating “We exist. We pay taxes. We pay bills. We built this country too, the transgender people, and we need respect.”

Paloma’s death is yet another tragic loss in the epidemic of violence against the trans and non-binary community. We’ve already recorded nine cases of fatal violence in Texas since last year, with the latest recorded only last month. With politicians in Texas determined to attack the transgender community, we must call on our allies to stand up and speak out. May Paloma be honored and remembered. Her life had meaning and this violence must stop.”

Tori Cooper, Human Rights Campaign Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative

The Houston Police Department is investigating Paloma’s death but currently have no leads. Those who may have information are encouraged to call the Houston Police Department’s homicide division at 713-308-3600, or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

More than 10,000 hate crimes in the U.S. involve a firearm each year, which equates to more than 28 each day, according to a 2020 report from HRC, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, Giffords Law Center and Equality Florida titled “Remembering and Honoring Pulse: Anti-LGBTQ Bias and Guns Are Taking Lives of Countless LGBTQ People.” The report also notes a marked increase in anti-LGBTQ+ hate crimes, especially against transgender people. According to the 2017-2019 Transgender Homicide Tracker, three-fourths of confirmed homicides against transgender people have involved a gun, and nearly eight in 10 homicides of Black trans women involve a gun. Further, advocates saw a 43% increase in the formation of anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups in 2019.

At the state level, transgender and gender non-conforming people in Texas are not protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education and public spaces. While Texas does include sexual orientation as a protected characteristic in its hate crimes law, it does not expressly include gender identity. Though we have recently seen some political gains that support and affirm transgender people, we have also faced anti-LGBTQ+ attacks at many levels of government this year. As of this writing, more than 270 anti-LGBTQ+ bills are under consideration in state legislatures across the country, more than 110 of which directly target transgender people.

In Texas, Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton have sparked national outrage by pushing state officials to actively investigate and target parents of transgender adolescents for what the governor is falsely calling “child abuse.” This stands in stark contrast to guidance released by the Biden administration and the Department of Health and Human Services which specifies that child welfare agencies have an obligation to protect transgender youth, including with respect to gender affirming care. In response, HHS released guidance stating that health care providers are not required to disclose the private information of their patients including information about gender affirming care. HHS also released guidance affirming that it is illegal to deny health care based upon gender identity and laid out steps to file a civil rights complaint with the Office of Civil Rights.

We must demand better from our elected officials and reject harmful anti-transgender legislation at the local, state and federal levels, while also considering every possible way to make ending this violence a reality. It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, especially Black transgender women. The intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive, so we must all work together to cultivate acceptance, reject hate and end stigma for everyone in the trans and gender non-conforming community.

  • More resources: Learn more about the fatal violence cases that HRC is tracking where details are unclear. You may find a list of these cases here.

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