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Mourners Overflow Funeral of Teen Allegedly Slain Over Sexual Identity

The State

Family, friends and strangers join at service for Eddie 'Gwen' Araujo, a 17-year-old boy who lived as a female.

October 26, 2002|Rone Tempest | Times Staff Writer

NEWARK, Calif. -- Hundreds of friends, family and sympathizers from across California gathered in this working-class Bay Area suburb Friday to mourn the brutal killing of the 17-year-old youth whom some knew as Eddie and others, as Gwen.

"We were really close. We are here to show that we loved him," said Stephanie Bauman, 17, a friend who wore gossamer angel wings to the funeral service at St. Edwards Church. More than 500 mourners overflowed the sanctuary on a beautiful, sunny fall afternoon.

Eddie Araujo, who also used the first names "Gwen" and "Lida," disappeared Oct. 3 after attending a party in a Newark home. His battered body, still garbed in a woman's party dress, was unearthed two weeks later in the Sierra foothills. Three Bay Area men have been charged with the murder under California hate-crime statutes.

At the overflowing church, family members spoke of their love for the gentle child who was allegedly murdered only a few blocks away. The accused killers were allegedly enraged after discovering that the beautiful girl at their party was biologically male.

"I've always had a fascination for angels," said Sylvia Guerrero, the slain youth's mother, at the church service. "I now know why: because angels don't have gender."

The theme of the service was the butterfly, Araujo's favorite symbol. The oak casket was adorned with a large cloth butterfly and bunches of flowers.

"Take your flight, beautiful butterfly. Take your flight," said Araujo's aunt Imelda Guerrero in her short, emotional eulogy.

The killing has attracted national attention and has become a rallying point for the gay and transgender community.

"We wanted to show our support because we are also transgendered," said Christopher Robin, 32, who came to the funeral from Santa Cruz with his partner, Jennifer Names, 40. "We came here because we suffer regular harassment in Santa Cruz. This could have happened to either one of us."

The Santa Cruz couple, who legally changed their names to match their transgendered identity, were among hundreds of gay, lesbian and other mourners who viewed Araujo in an open casket at the Fremont Memorial Chapel Mortuary before the funeral service.

"I came here because I've been gay for 70 years and have had my share of bad times," said Chris, 73, of Fremont, who asked that his last name not be used because "I'm still in the closet because I have kids."

But not all or even most of the mourners were gay. They included students from local high schools and workers from nearby communities. Some were drawn to the scene by reports that fundamentalist Christian protesters were also coming.

Draped in an American flag and wearing Oakland Raiders wristbands, Michael Mills, 35, a plumbing contractor from Oakland, said he was at the funeral at the request of his 30-year-old transgendered sister, who lives in New York.

Some mourners came carrying signs with political messages. "Judge me not for what I am but for WHO I am," said one. Several teenage girls wore T-shirts inscribed: "We really love you underneath it all."

At his mother's request, Araujo's body was clad in a dark dress in the casket. At one point as the hundreds of mourners passed in front of the casket, Araujo's maternal grandmother collapsed and required medical attention.

The media swarm around the case has surprised this mostly immigrant area between Oakland and San Jose.

"This is an event that, although tragic, is unusual because it happened in this part of the Bay Area," said Steve Ehlers, 53, a construction worker from Fremont who was standing across the street from the funeral home.

Outside the Catholic church Friday, those who could not get into the service softly sang "Amazing Grace." Drama students at Newark High School arrived in angel costumes.

The students are performing in "The Laramie Project," based on the murder of University of Wyoming student Matthew Shepard. The play was already in production before Araujo was killed.

Others carried banners and signs proclaiming "God Loves Gwen" and "Live Free, Die Free."

An anti-gay Kansas preacher and his congregation, which had threatened to demonstrate at the church service, did not attend.

But the two ministers who presided over the service warned that Araujo's death should not be converted into hate.

"There are people out there against what you are gathering here for," said parish priest Father Jeff Finley. "Let's love them, too. Otherwise, what is not understood about other people becomes violent."

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