A Light Dimmed Too Soon: Honoring the Memory of Chanell Perez Ortiz
It happened again. But this time, it happened in Puerto Rico. Another trans woman trying to survive in this spine-chilling world; another trans woman murdered on US territory; another broken promise, and, more call-to-action lists that just keeps getting bigger as the days progress.
Her name was Chanell Perez Ortiz. She had pearly white teeth, a caramel complexion, and eyes that led one into a room where potential lies shelved on exhibition—from the love of pop culture to the art of styling lace frontal wigs. Ortiz was the amalgam of femenina.
There was not much on the internet about Perez’s upbringing; only that she was a cosmetologist and a “fashion nova” who adored hair and makeup.
Fashion, for some trans women, facilitates freedom of expression and brings trans women closer to realizing their right to life. Hair and makeup align trans women with their most authentic selves—bringing to life riveting art into human form.
At times, I let this undeniable truth decamp into criticism, “Why is the normative society expecting trans women to always appear in public with a full face of makeup and lace frontal wigs? Didn’t they know that not all trans women aspired to these patriarchal social conventions of beauty?” And this was the turning point for me, as I realized these aesthetics were: freedom.
Perez, like all human beings, are born free and equal in dignity and rights. This is a reference to Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and a guarantee to the people that all rights and freedoms outlined in the Declaration should be interpreted without distinction of any kind.
Regrettably, there are distinctions when it comes to transgenderism in Puerto Rico. For instance, trans women are judged to be an invisible and underserved group. The invisibility of trans women in Puerto Rico’s social arena has potentially led to an escalation of violence against them. This finding does not stand alone, as Ínaru Nadia de la Fuente Díaz said transgender people in Puerto Rico are “invisible in the eyes of the island” and this has contributed to a culture of violence.
Between 2009 and 2011, Puerto Rico has seen 18 homicides against LGBT individuals. While it is not immediately clear how many of these homicides were trans women, the number is still troubling. In 2012, a trans woman living in Carolina, Puerto Rico was stabbed to death in her home. Then in 2020, this number increased: six trans people had been murdered. One of those deaths was Michelle Michellyn Ramos Vargas, a 33-year-old bartender and aspiring nurse. Based on the reporting of Assunção, Vargas was found dead on an isolated road in San Germán, Puerto Rico with multiple gun wounds to her body.
It has been said that in Puerto Rico, the population places cultural value on adherence to polarized and rigid definitions of gender and sexuality. Moreover, evidence seems to suggest that intolerance toward transgender people in Puerto Rico is rooted in religious heritage. Although the study conducted by Rodriquez-Madera does not explore all forms of violence, she did find the high levels of stigma toward socially marginalized and vulnerable populations were connected to religious beliefs.
Again, there does not seem to be much online about Ortiz or if her murder was religiously motivated. What I do know is that human rights activists have seen a rise in attacks on trans women in the last couple of years.
Based on the research I have been conducting, the continued verbal attacks on trans women have come from groups of individuals from both sides of the aisle. Some of these attacks are coming from public figures who are set in their beliefs about trans women. In the words of Bernard Baruch, “Every man has a right to his opinion, but no man has a right to be wrong in his facts.”
This is exactly how I hear the opinions about trans women; everyone has a right to them but not to their own set of facts. On the other side of the coin, I think most humans would agree that no person has the right to arbitrarily take a life, even if the life being taken is a trans life.
I hope that the Puerto Rican government exercises its due diligence to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators responsible for Ortiz’s death, and to utilize the hate crime laws it enacted in 2002 to protect individuals like Ortiz from further violence on the bases of their gender identity and sex characteristics. This could make Puerto Rico a safer place.
 Rodríguez-Madera, Sheilla L et al. “Experiences of Violence Among Transgender Women in Puerto Rico: An Underestimated Problem.” Journal of homosexuality vol. 64,2 (2017): 209-217. doi:10.1080/00918369.2016.1174026
 Id., p. 2.
 Cohen, Christopher Brito Li. “Transgender People in Puerto Rico Say They Are Invisible in the Eyes of the Island – and It’s Contributing to a Culture of Violence.” CBS News, 2 Sept. 2021, www.cbsnews.com/news/transgender-puerto-ricans-violence/.
 Supra., footnote 1, p. 3.
 “Transgender Murder 30th Anti-LGBTQ Homicide in Puerto Rico in Decade – Windy City Times News.” Windy City Times, 23 Oct. 2012, www.windycitytimes.com/lgbt/Transgender-murder-30th-anti-LGBTQ-homicide-in-Puerto-Rico-in-decade/40036.html.
 Assunção, Muri. “Another Transgender Woman Fatally Shot in Puerto Rico – the 6th Killing of a Trans Person This Year in the U.S. Territory.” Nydailynews.Com, 30 Sept. 2020, web.archive.org/web/20210129062302/https://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/ny-transgender-woman-killed-puerto-rico-michelle-ramos-vargas-20200930-xnf2a4i6ivdt7phe5eqjwwriwu-story.html.
 Supra, footnote 1.
 Id., p. 2.
 United Nations. “Born Free and Equal – Un Human Rights Office.” OHCHR, 2019, www.ohchr.org/Documents/Publications/Born_Free_and_Equal_WEB.pdf.