September 17, 2020 at 3:49 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Tijuana authorities criticized over handling of transgender woman’s murder
Jeanine Huerta López (Photo courtesy of Diana Jimenez López)

The family of a transgender woman who was murdered in Tijuana last month has sharply criticized the way that local authorities have handled the case.

Local media reports indicate Jeanine Huerta López’s best friend found her dead in her apartment in Tijuana’s Francisco Villa neighborhood on Aug. 28. Her sister, Diana Jiménez López, on Tuesday told the Washington Blade during a telephone interview from California that Huerta had stab wounds throughout her body.

Huerta was reportedly last seen at a Birthday party on Aug. 24.

Jiménez told the Blade her sister was born in Puerto Vallarta, but grew up in San Bernardino County. Jiménez said she moved to Tijuana around 12 years ago after she graduated from high school.

Huerta worked for Centro de Servicios Ser A.C., a group that provides health care and other services to the LGBTQ community and people with HIV/AIDS in Tijuana. Jiménez told the Blade her sister was also a sex worker.

“She was a kind-hearted soul,” said Jiménez. “She really helped others whenever she could.”

Huerta’s mother, Dolores López, told the Blade that Huerta bought food for people during the coronavirus lockdown in Tijuana. López also said her daughter previously worked as an interpreter for a Mexican telephone company.

“She was an activist,” López told the Blade. “She was a very, very hard worker.”

Body not properly stored in morgue

Jiménez said it took a week for her to claim her sister’s body because authorities identified her by her birth name, even though the friend who found her provided them with the correct spelling of her name.

Jiménez said she had to identify her sister’s “decomposed body” twice “just so they would release the body to me.” Jiménez also told the Blade the morgue did not properly store her sister’s body.

“When I had to see my sister, it was a horrific smell,” she said. “There were worms crawling on her. She had no hair. It was just the worst thing that anybody should have to see.”

“I’m not sure why I had to see my sister’s body twice in order for them to release her to me,” added Jiménez.

López echoed Jiménez’s anguish.

“It’s been hard because of all the things that Diana had to go through to recover her body,” said López. “[It’s been] very painful.”

The morgue released Huerta’s body to Jiménez on Sept. 2. She was buried in Puerto Vallarta the next day.

López told the Blade her mother and Huerta’s brothers were able to attend the funeral. López said she could not travel to Mexico because she is undocumented.

U.S. Embassy condemns murder, urges thorough investigation

Authorities have not made any arrests in connection with Huerta’s murder. The U.S. Embassy in Mexico in a Sept. 1 tweet urged them to thoroughly investigate it.

“We are shocked by the murder of Jeanine, an activist for the rights of the LGBT community, in Baja California,” reads the tweet. “Authorities should carry out a thorough investigation to find those responsible and give justice to Jeanine.”

Centro de Servicios Ser A.C. in a lengthy statement echoed the embassy’s call for a thorough investigation. The group also urged Baja California lawmakers to add a formal recognition of murder based on gender identity to the state’s Penal Code.

“I don’t feel like the authorities are putting much effort into her case because she was trans,” Jiménez told the Blade. “They started off the investigation, trying to brush it off as maybe it’s just another case. It’s just not another case. She was my sister and just because she was trans doesn’t mean she should be treated unequally.”

The Blade has reached out to the Tijuana Municipal Police Department and the Baja California Attorney General’s office for comment.

Tijuana, Mexico, in January 2019. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

‘We seek justice for Jeanine’

Centro de Servicios Ser A.C. on Aug. 30 held a memorial service for Huerta at their Tijuana offices. Many of the activists who attended wore t-shirts that read, “we seek justice for Jeanine.”

Centro de Servicios Ser A.C. in the statement it issued after Huerta’s death also noted Mexico is the second most dangerous country in Latin America for LGBTQ people. It cited statistics that indicate more than half of the 473 reported victims of anti-LGBTQ hate crimes in the country between 2012-2018 were trans women.

“Jeanine, we promise you that we are going to keep your fighting spirit and fervent conviction that our lives must be respected and lived with dignity alive,” reads the Centro de Servicios Ser A.C. statement. “We are in pain. We are sad, but we are also angry and not powerless because we will fight to ensure that no other transgender woman has to suffer the agony that you suffered and that deprived you of your hopeful smile.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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