July 15, 2024

Thousands gather in Mexico City to demand justice and honour influential magistrate and rights campaigner.

Mexico’s first openly nonbinary judge and leading LGBTQ rights campaigner has been found dead, sparking protests and calls for a thorough investigation.

Jesus Ociel Baena, who used they/them pronouns, was a trailblazer for LGBTQ rights in Mexico and throughout Latin America. Their appointment as a magistrate last year was viewed as a breakthrough moment for LGBTQ individuals in Mexico, who face high rates of discrimination and violence.

Baena was found dead alongside another person, whom local media identified as their partner, at their home in the central city of Aguascalientes on Monday morning.

Security Minister Rosa Icela Rodriguez said it had not been determined if the deaths were “a homicide or … some kind of accident”.

State prosecutor Jesus Figueroa Ortega said the pair appeared to have suffered wounds from a sharp object and that there was no indication of an intruder.

LGBTQ rights advocates pointed out that Baena had been threatened due to their activism and called for a careful, unbiased investigation.

“They were a person who received many hate messages, and even threats of violence and death, and you can’t ignore that in these investigations,” said Alejandro Brito, director of the LGBTQ rights group Letra S.

People participate in a protest in memory of Ociel Baena, Mexico's first openly non-binary magistrate who was found dead at home, in Mexico City, Mexico, November 13, 2023. REUTERS/Quetzalli Nicte-Ha REFILE - QUALITY REPEAT
People participate in a vigil and protest in memory of Jesus Ociel Baena, Mexico’s first openly nonbinary magistrate who was found dead at home, in Mexico City, Mexico, November 13 [Quetzalli Nicte/Reuters]

‘We won’t stay silent’

Thousands more called for justice at a vigil in Mexico City on Monday evening, with attendees shouting “We won’t stay silent” while lighting candles for Baena.

Brito said he worried that Baena’s death could intimidate or spark violence against LGBQT people.

“If this was a crime motivated by prejudice, these kinds of crimes always have the intention of sending a message,” Brito said. “The message is an intimidation, it’s to say: ‘This is what could happen to you if you make your identities public.’”

The National Observatory of Hate Crimes Against LGBTI+ Persons in Mexico registered 305 violent hate crimes against sexual minorities in 2019-2022, including murder and disappearances.

Baena was outspoken about their gender identity, even succeeding in winning official recognition for the gender-neutral noun “maestre” for magistrate.

“I am a nonbinary person. I am not interested in being seen as either a woman or a man. This is an identity. It is mine, for me, and nobody else. Accept it,” Baena wrote on X in June.

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