A transgender woman was beaten to death in Porto, Portugal, in late February 2006. The woman, known as Gisberta, reportedly was beaten, stoned, stomped on, burned, sexually assaulted with a stick and thrown into a deep pit in an abandoned building where she had been living.
An immigrant from Brazil, Gisberta, 46, had lived in Portugal for 25 years. She worked as a prostitute and as an occasional performer in gay bars. Her legal name was Gilberto Salce Júnior. Media reports said that 14 boys between ages 10 and 16 admitted to police their involvement in the crime after one of the boys confessed to a teacher.
Gisberta, or simply "Gis", a homeless Brazilian transsexual immigrant, who was HIV positive, had drug problems, and was a sex-worker, was found dead on the 22nd of February 2006 inside a pit 10 metres deep, in an unfinished building in Porto, the second biggest Portuguese city. The crime was confessed to by a group of 14 boys, between the ages of 10 and 16 years old, most of whom came from a child protection institution belonging to the Catholic Church, although financed by the state.
From this confession, details of the dreadful act have become known. The victim had a deeply fragile health condition, and these boys, frequently harassed, insulted, and chased her. On the 19th, a group of these boys entered the unfinished and abandoned building where Gisberta was staying, tied her up, gagged and assaulted her with extreme violence, kicking her, and beating her up with sticks and stones. The group also confessed to having introduced sticks in to Gisberta's anus, whose body presented great injuries, and have abandoned her at the scene. Her body presents also cigarette-burning marks.
On the 20th and 21st, they have returned to the scene and repeated the aggressions. By dawn, from the 21st to 22nd, they finally threw her in to the pit, attempting to hide the crime. The autopsy clarified that she was still alive. Since her body was not floating, yet submerged in the bottom of the pit, indicates that she died drowned.
Probably thrown into the trench while still alive. Victim not only of aggression but also of sexual abuse. Day by day our indignation grows with the way that Gisberta's murder has been published, commented and attenuated. We think it is odd that today's television reports ignore the shocking information released by the Portuguese newspaper "Journal de Notícias": there is an obvious sexual component in this crime. Should it to be ignored that the victim was submitted to a particular kind of torture, like the insertion of objects in the anus?
The priest Lino Maia, president of the IPSS's Union, stated yesterday that the boys would have "attenuating circumstances", because of a presumed molestation from a paedophile to a colleague. In the presence of a murder, the church tries to blame the LGBT population, associating it once again to child molestation. This declaration only reinforces the conviction of discriminatory motivation. The priest tries to excuse the institution he runs and the boys he's responsible for: by saying that the they did "justice with their own hands" to respond to a presumed victim's non-related episode, he is precisely defining a hate crime.
"How was it possible?" asks yesterday's newspaper 'Público'. "How was it possible that it hasn't happened before?" we answer - Don't we know the child protection system is just the continuation of abandon and maltreatment? Don't we know of the violence and social exclusion and how it is promoted in many countries? Don't we know of the discrimination towards homeless people, HIV positives, prostitutes, homosexuals, gypsies, immigrants, and especially transsexuals that even in the Gay community are highly excluded?
In 'Público' we may read "more likely an unconscious act than premeditated". What is unconscious and not premeditated in the transphobic insult and in four continuum days of aggression, extreme violence, torture and sexual abuse? Of throwing a body in a trench without checking if, it was still alive?
It is shameful that even today the media do not recognise the difference between a transsexual and a crossdresser, homophobia and transphobia, sexual orientation and gender identity. Journalists should put in serious question their professional conscience, their own preconceptions, the approaches by the media to the LGBT rights, with special incidence over the transsexual population, the more mocked, and disadvantaged and misunderstood in the media universe and society.
Part of the social communication only referred to Gisberta as a "homeless" person. It is not up to journalists - or anyone - to decide if it was the "homeless" feature - or another - that motivated this murder. Unfortunately, it is up to the prejudice. Gisberta accumulated multiple exclusion; none of them can be omitted. She was a transsexual and transphobia victim. More than enumerate these exclusions, for we still don't know much on what really happened, to omit some is to hide probable explanatory elements of this crime, without information that supports it, and it is a gross manipulation and reinforcement of discrimination.
It is outrageous the silence of the political parties, even with the predictable argument that it won't be wise to talk about "hate crime" with children involved. The issue is not to "criminalise" children of under age. The state should assume the responsibilities he never assumed in taking care of those that are "young". It should punish those in the age of being responsible. However, do not mix up "children" with "16 year-old youth" that know what killing means and - not forgetting the dramatic age from most of the group - do not attenuate the crime in itself and the prejudice in it. The feelings that generate hate are of the responsibility of adults and those who run the country.
We will not ask ourselves if children are capable of hating. Unhappily in many of our countries society hates, and it is in it that children grow. Anti-LGBT (and other) hate, especially transphobia, is a serious social problem that reproduces itself among generations. The real question is, and can only be, within the combat measures and prevention of the discrimination and inequalities in it's whole - in the LGBT specific case, in the recognition of social rights and equality and social legitimisation. Yes, this time "young" people committed the crime. However, the transphobic, homophobic aggressions in our countries that have risen in the last couple of years, were not, and the invariable rule has been its silencing and forgetfulness.
How about the next crime? Will we wait for one committed by adults to stand up with a position? In addition, to aggravate the laws (not in function of age) to protect against crimes and discrimination based on social condition, disease, transphobia, homophobia, etc? To implement sexual education against prejudice in schools? To face the living hell that is the system of child (un)protection in this country? To invest in equality policies?P>
Gisberta was tortured and sexually abused for days and then brutally murdered. The media have distorted her life story and have refused to show a photograph of her face. We can't allow her face, nor the nature of this crime, to be so easily forgotten as if it were an everyday occurrence.
She was a homeless, transsexual, HIV-positive, immigrant drug-abuser and sex-worker who was killed by young men and boys from a residence facility for at-risk youth. The nature of Gisberta's vulnerabilities and the so-called system of protection of minors in Portugal bring fully to light the pervasive marginalization and longstanding discriminatory attitudes that characterize Portuguese society.
A simple reaction of lowering the age of criminal liability is nothing more than the government washing its hands of the issue. Let the government take on the responsibility for at-risk youth that it has so far refused, instead of abandoning them to religious institutions and the inferior guidance they receive there. And let the government prosecute those who are of legal age. But this hideous crime should not be minimized by focusing arguments just on the age of the perpetrators.
This case was widely spread by the Portuguese media on the 23rd and 24th in a biased and erroneous way. While some of the Portuguese media mentioned the murder of a "transvestite", most of them mentioned only her "homeless", or "homeless, sex worker, drug addict " condition. Gisberta was, also in some media, called Gisberto, her (masculine) legal name. According with this omission, and even before any details about the murder or about the identity and personal characteristics of the victim were known, many newspapers, in opinion columns, printed articles from opinion-makers (already known in Portugal for their personal opposition to LGBT rights), defendind that this couldn't be considered as a "hate crime", and that it wouldn't be legitim to consider any connection with Gisberta's transsexuality among the motivations to the crime. Usually, the arguments were around the under age of most of the aggressors.
At the same time were, and still are, ignored by the media the press releases of the Portuguese LGBT associations, including the Panteras Rosa and the trans association (@t), clarifying the "transsexuality" and victims identity, demanding legal and social measures against discriminations and protection against hate crimes motivated by gender identity, sexual orientation, social condition, disease or national origin, though it was vaguely mentioned a solidarity vigilance (a citizen's initiative supported by the LGBT associations) in the 24th evening, but, once again, the media ignored the arguments of the associations, asking the transsexuality of the victim to be mentioned, as well as the transphobia discrimination as one of probable crime motivations.
Avoiding mentioning "hate crime" with the argument of the under age of the aggressors, with the exception of a few politicians that expressed their personal opinion, no Portuguese political party gave any declaration nor condemned this crime. From the Government, the only reaction came from the minister responsible for this under age institutions, that simply stated "the feeling of shock", without any more words or comments, and demanded an inquiry to the institution where the aggressors were. These, with the exception of a 16 year boy, already criminally responsible and who is already in preventive imprisonment, were sent back to the institution and are in a semi-liberty regime. None other measure is know to be taken towards the aggressors. Psychological support for the 10 year old boys, for example?
No photo of the victim was printed in most newspapers. The media and the opinion-makers focused the "shock" of the crime in the under age of the aggressors, and not in the death of a citizen. They gave voice to insinuations of the responsible priest for the under age institution, that even said publicly that a boy from the institution was being "abused" by a paedophile, and this would be a "extenuating circumstance". These declarations did not lead to the publication of any reaction. Contrary to the current praxis, the data revealed on the 24th about the victim's sexual harassment, as well as the possibility of Gisberta was still alive when she thonwed at the pit, were only printed by an Oporto's newspaper. Only four days after the crime was denounced, the media silence about it is almost absolute, and seems likely to remain so.