The violent death of Jesús Ociel Baena and suggestions by the authorities that it was a domestic killing have angered advocates who are demanding a thorough investigation.
Jesús Ociel Baena in May, when they became one of the few people to receive a nonbinary passport issued by the Mexican government.[Credit: Mexican Foreign Affairs Ministry]
Simon Romero & Emiliano Rodríguez Mega
November 14, 2023
Jesús Ociel Baena made history a year ago when they were sworn in as the first openly nonbinary person to assume a judicial post in Mexico.
On Monday, Mx. Baena, who used they/them pronouns, and their partner were found dead inside their home, stirring calls from Mexico’s L.G.B.T.Q. community to determine if the magistrate had been targeted for promoting the rights of nonbinary people.
The authorities in the state of Aguascalientes, where Mx. Baena, 38, was a magistrate on the electoral court, have said that their 37-year-old partner, Dorian Herrera, appeared to have killed them with a razor blade before dying by suicide.
But L.G.B.T.Q. leaders in Mexico are questioning whether such a swift assessment fits what they say is a pattern by the authorities of effectively dismissing grisly killings involving L.G.B.T.Q. people as crimes of passion.
Mx. Baena, often clad in skirts and heels while wearing makeup, said they had received death threats as a result of their prominence as one of Mexico’s most visible L.G.B.T.Q. figures.
“Yesterday it felt like the whole community was in shock,” said Alex Orué, a nonbinary activist in Mérida, the capital of the state of Yucatán.
Marches were organized across Mexico on Monday night to demand that the authorities conduct a thorough investigation.
“We make community in the face of tragedies,” said Mx. Orué, who attended a gathering in Mérida.
Any attack or hate crime against members of the L.G.B.T.Q. community shakes people and instills fear, Mx. Orué added. But the deaths of Mx. Baena and their partner were even more painful.
“If someone with that level of visibility, with that public position being a magistrate, and also with the protection of the state because they were living under threat, has this happen to them, what can the rest of us expect?” Mx. Orué said.
Jesús Figueroa Ortega, the attorney general of Aguascalientes, said in an interview with a radio program on Tuesday morning that an investigation so far suggested that Mx. Baena and their partner started fighting in an upstairs bedroom, where investigators found blood stains and drips that led downstairs.
According to Mr. Figueroa Ortega, investigators found 20 wounds on Mx. Baena’s body caused by a razor blade. A video from a camera shows the couple stepping into their house around 1 a.m. on Sunday. Nobody else was seen entering afterward.
Mr. Figueroa Ortega said that Mx. Baena’s partner, Mr. Herrera, might have then used another razor blade to inflict a wide and fatal wound on the neck. “We could say that this is the conclusion we have with the expert information up to this moment,” Mr. Figueroa Ortega said, though he noted that the investigation was ongoing.
Cristian González Cabrera, an L.G.B.T.Q. rights researcher who focuses on Latin America for Human Rights Watch, said it was “disappointingly common” in Mexico for prosecutors to share information before a probe is finished.
“It’s dangerous in the sense that it begins to shape the narrative around the case without all the facts,” he said.
Mexico ranks second behind Brazil in Latin America for the highest number of hate crimes against the L.G.B.T.Q. community, according to advocates.
Mx. Baena was a pioneering nonbinary figure who influenced changes in Mexican society, including the way many people in the country describe themselves in official documents, and speak and write in Spanish.
This year Mx. Baena was among the first people in Mexico to be issued passports describing them as nonbinary. And in May, when they succeeded in being described as nonbinary on their birth certificate, Mx. Baena said it was the first time someone had done so in their home state of Coahuila.
“Deal with it!” they posted on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter.
Mx. Baena insisted on being referred to in Spanish with the gender-neutral title “le magistrade” instead of “el magistrado,” underscoring efforts to loosen rules in a Romance language in which nouns are often categorized as masculine or feminine. Several weeks ago, Mx. Baena was also the first person in Mexico to receive the gender-neutral title of “maestre” (instead of “maestro”) in electoral law.
“If anything positive could come out of this horrible incident, an expansion of gender identity recognition across Mexico would be a very important outcome and definitely honor their legacy,” Mr. González Cabrera said.
Mx. Orué added that Mx. Baena seemingly lived without fear despite the number of threats and insults they received.
“Ociel always sought to listen, to have dialogues,” Mx. Orué said. “Their intention was always to seek to get to that point of equity for everyone, but in particular for the nonbinary community.”
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