US Marine in Philippines faces trial for murder of trans woman

On Dec. 15, the Philippine government charged U.S. Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton with the murder of Jennifer Laude, a Filipina transgender woman. Pemberton was there with 3,500 other American soldiers and sailors for military exercises as part of the Visiting Forces Agreement signed earlier this year.

Pemberton was out bar-hopping with his colleagues on Oct. 11 in Olongapo, a city northwest of Manila, just before he went with Laude and her friend to a hotel. Laude’s friend had left before Pemberton strangled and drowned Laude in a toilet bowl.

The killing of Jennifer Laude is enraging for several reasons. First, reading through all the news reports it becomes clear that the media’s representation was and continues to be disrespectful, often using her former name and putting her name in quotation marks as if to imply that her identity is fake. Even Time published an article with the headline “Witness Says Suspect U.S. Marine Didn’t Know Murdered Filipina Was Transgender,” as if to suggest that his reaction could possibly be justified. This kind of reporting is a dominant facet of a culture that supports violence against trans and gender non-conforming people.

This tragic death is sadly an all too common occurrence, a worldwide phenomenon of trans people—particularly trans women of color—being murdered. Every 32 hours, a trans woman is killed. The actual statistics about violence against trans and gender non-conforming people is likely much higher, as they are rarely filed as hate crimes.

Jennifer Laude’s case is intimately tied up with imperialism generally and the recent VFA specifically. The occupation of the Philippines by the U.S. began in 1898 when Spain ceded the country to the U.S. The people of the Philippines fought for independence throughout the Philippine-America war, and held elections in 1935. The U.S. recaptured the Philippines in 1945 but then formally recognized its independence in 1946. Permanent U.S. bases were phased out in the early 1990s, but the VFA allows a rotation of thousands of troops to perform drills there. The U.S. government considers its military presence in the Philippines as a strategic placement because of its proximity to China.

One thing is for sure, wherever occupation exists, people will struggle to break free. Protests have broken out in the area of the Philippines where Jennifer Laude was murdered, as well as solidarity demonstrations across the U.S.—all calling for the scrapping of the VFA. All progressive people should stand in solidarity with those struggling against imperialism around the world as well as those fighting for an end to anti-trans bigotry and violence.

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