Texas drag performer’s tragic death poses a dilemma for this reporter

Mercedes DemarcoTHE GUERRILLA ANGEL REPORT — Let there be no doubt here, any death while in police custody following being tased — which is what happened to El Paso, Texas, drag performer Fernando Gomez, known on stage as Mercedes Demarco, earlier this week — is outrageous. This incident needs to be fully investigated and if findings results in police usage of unnecessary force, severe disciplinary action taken.

The gist: Police responded to what is reported as a domestic disturbance call, found Gomez screaming and after being unable to subdue Gomez, used a taser. Later, while cuffed during transport, Gomez became unresponsive, and remained so after paramedics intervened. Gomez was later declared dead at a hospital.

The dilemma here is the question of whether Gomez’s death is a ‘TDOR’ relevant. The problem is twofold.

1) It is difficult to make a case that the police intended to kill Gomez specifically because of Gomez’s drag performer status. (Indeed, I’m unsure whether Gomez was in drag at the time or not.) If there’s no intent, there’s no hate crime.

2) While drag performers are under the transgender umbrella with respect to hate crime laws, they most likely have to be in drag for a clear hate crime case to be made — unless they can show prior knowledge. If the person being subject to violence is not in drag (and identifies with their birth sex), a hate crime case cannot be made.

[Since the story first broke, I’m seeing hints that Gomez identified as Mercedes Demarco off stage often and a female presentation was her preferred gender ID. If this is correct, I’ll make the changes in this report.]

My inclination here is to not include this death, as tragic as it is, in TDOR numbers as I’ve no interest in hyping up the numbers to score media points. Trans people die from non-hate related deaths every day — old age, sickness, automobile accidents and so on. We cannot track progress in reversing trans hate crime deaths if we don’t at least apply a scientific method of keeping tally.

Let there be no doubt however, the trans community in El Paso will mourn this loss, deeply.


Feel free to comment on your feelings either way. Community feedback matters on things like this.

Tip of the hat to Gabrielle Langmoore.

A somewhat updated report: http://www.rawstory.com/rs/2013/10/16/well-known-texas-drag-performer-dies-in-police-custody/

Mercedes Demarco


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Categories: Deaths, Murder, Law Enforcement, Police, Transgender, Transsexual, Trans

Tags: , , , , , , ,

18 replies

  1. This clearly a hate crime, both of gender, and likely race and class as well. If you look at Gomez, she has done modifications to her body, such as thinning out her eyebrows to a feminine arch, they would be present whether she was in full “drag” or not. I am a drag queen and I am an FTM man; it is clear that when i am in drag, it is just that. I am convinced that this person was on the transfeminine spectrum, and her feminine gender was a more transcendent sort of female gendering than is mine, for example. She should be respected as such.

    As for the tasing being excessive force which led to her death, it is clear that it is just that. They may not have intended to murder her, but their excessive actions killed her just the same. I hardly think that including her in TDOR is in any way “hyping” the numbers whatsoever. Gomez was treated abhorrently by the police for who she was.

    Please don’t tell me that if Gomez was a white, cisgendered, Wall Street banker, dressed in a $2,000 suit, living in an upscale apartment building that he would have been treated with that same sort of barbaric disrespect.

    To not include her would be the ultimate disrespect in death. Likewise, when in doubt, inclusive is always the way to operate.

  2. I agree with Karlyn. I can’t imagine the same thing happening to say, a white suburban cisgender woman. It would be great to give the police the benefit of the doubt, but unfortunately there have been way too many incidents of discrimination, racial profiling etc. on their part to give them such a benefit. Not to mention this happened in Texas. I also would not be surprised if Mercedes was the one that called for help in the first place. I have had the unfortunate experience of calling the police for help when my car was stolen, only to have them accuse me of lying, harass me in their vehicle and then leave me stranded without the slightest bit of help. Not that I think all police do these things, but for me, they should be considered guilty until proven innocent, and citizens should have the opposite privilege.

  3. Why don’t you wait until you have all the details? This person was behaving irrationally and was subdued. That’s fine. The level of force may have been excessive – that’s not fine. How would you like it if someone publicized a story about trans people harassing police officers? The story shouldn’t have anything to do with a person’s gender identity, it should be relevant regardless.

    • I understand what you are saying, but in a country with a history (and present) such as ours, it is sometimes up to “us” to make sure those details aren’t ignored. There have been countless cases where media or public pressure helped to bring justice to the guilty or else exonerate those who were innocent. Sometimes entire cities or districts have discriminatory policies or unwritten rules that only an outside investigation can uncover. That is why any case that seems suspicious needs to be probed and questioned. We can’t just “wait” and see what turns up. If there is any kind of cover-up on the part of the police, do you think they would just voluntarily hand out that information to the public?

  4. F that! You dont have to be wearing clothes or makeup to be trans, or to be seen as trans. Trangender spectrum encompasses all people who are gender variant. That includes gay men who fall in the feminine side of the spectrum. Saying someone isnt trans because they arent gender variant enough basically is crazy to me!

  5. Doesn’t need to be in drag to be a hate crime. Many drag queens display effete mannerisms and modes of speech in daily life. Gender nonconformity is not just about clothes.

  6. It can still be considered a hate crime. They were called out due to a domestic disturbance, meaning they see two men arguing or they see a man and what they perceive as a transgender person arguing, either way, it’s a hate crime. Such a tragic event that didn’t need to happen.

  7. I also feel compelled to say…. TDOR shouldn’t ever be used as an excuse or means to police the boundaries of ‘transgender’. It’s in the opposite spirit of what it should be, building unity from tragedy.

    • You make a valid point.

      The problem I see is that accurate data on trans hate crime deaths are hard to come by and likely to be woefully inaccurate (under reported). To show that there is a problem and reverse conditions, we need strong indisputable evidence. We don’t have it. Honoring our dead is important, but getting society to take action and reverse the trans hate crime death rate is paramount IMO.

      Thanks for your comment.

  8. Just playing devil’s advocate here… Has anybody seen an autopsy report? Reports say that she was acting hysterical; could there have been something else biochemically amiss that might make a taser jolt cause heart stoppage? Anything from nearly undetectable mini-strokes (possible at her age as my brother just had one at the same age) to a spiked beverage could have sufficiently altered her body to make a lower voltage taser burst deadly. It also says that she was acting fearful, but does not say which direction her fear was directed. Could she have been afraid because she could feel that something was not right but couldn’t pinpoint the problem?

    Don’t get me wrong, I am neither belittling the struggles of my transgender brothers and sisters, nor am I taking the side of the police. I am just a scientist and a mathematician at my core and I can’t help but think that there are a lot of factors that we have incomplete data on and I hate to turn in my homework without double checking my work.

  9. Thanks for the comments everyone!


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