‘We demand clear action and justice’: Jackson Heights community honors transgender woman killed in Puerto Rico

alexa vigil
Angélica Acevedo/QNS

An illustration of Alexa Negrón Luciano, the transgender woman who was killed on her birthday in Puerto Rico, was perched at the center of a memorial surrounded by flowers, candles, the Puerto Rican flag and a poster that read “Transfobia Mata” (“Transphobia Kills”), all placed along the wire fence in front of Manuel De Dios Unanue Triangle Park on Roosevelt Avenue and 83rd Street in Jackson Heights.

A few dozen people gathered to honor the 29-year-old, also known as Neulisa Luciano Ruiz, in a vigil on March 2.

“The trans women in New York City send our support and love for our trans sisters in Puerto Rico. We grieve the death of our sister Alexa, that day was a day of celebration for her as it was her birthday and transphobic people without empathy ended her life,” Bianey Garcia, organizer at Make the Road NY and Jackson Heights resident, told QNS in Spanish.

Several New York City-based human rights organizations led the vigil, including Make the Road NY, Decrim NY, Queeramisú – LGBTQ Leaders of Color for Progress, NY Anti-Violence Project, Lorena Borjas Foundation, Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo and Trans Goofy Games.

Alexa was found with multiple gunshot wounds in the morning of Feb. 24 in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico. She was homeless and, according to a Facebook Live video, had depression.

Before her death, Alexa was harassed on social media after someone accused her of using a mirror to peep at women inside a restroom at a fast food restaurant. Police found there was no proof of that accusation — but that didn’t stop misinformation and transphobic posts to spread on social media.

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A few days before Monday evening’s vigil, Jackson Heights-based trans activist Jennifer Orellana uploaded a video, saying in Spanish, “historically, the government has failed us in putting a stop to the femicide in our streets and it’s time that we take institutional action.”

Orellana introduced Puerto Rican trans activist Samantha Love at Monday’s vigil, who gave a stirring speech in Spanish about the challenges the transgender community in Latin America faces everyday.

“Many of our members have been thrown out to the streets, but others have been like Alexa and me and so many others — we have escaped a prison,” Love said. “At an early age we left the oppression of fundamentalism, of fanaticism. We had to face the world at an early age. Thank God we could fly, open our wings and reach the big city, the Big Apple, which has made us the women that you see here today. ”

Love spoke while holding a mirror, which symbolized the mirror Alexa carried to look behind her back, for safety reasons. She then noted that this is the third major case of a hate crime in Puerto Rico within the last few years.

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Love called for justice for Kevin Fret, a 24-year-old artist who was killed last year, Ruben Baez Garcia, a nurse who was found dead in a motel almost four years ago, and now, Alexa.

A video of the moments that led up to Alexa’s death was posted on Snapchat. In the video, Alexa is seen walking away from a group of people who followed and threatened her before gunshots are heard.

Puerto Rico police said they were investigating three men — one of whom is a minor —  in connection with her murder, but there have been no arrests or updates of the case as of March 3, according to Noticel. Police also said one of the people interviewed said the gunshots heard in the video came from a BB gun.

“We are very angry because the video of her death was published on social media and the authorities have not given or arrested her attackers, so from NYC we are demanding clear actions and justice from the police of Puerto Rico, so that Alexa’s death does not go unpunished,” Garcia said.

Samy Nemir-Olivares, who’s running for District Leader in Brooklyn’s 53rd Assembly District, was one of the speakers at Monday’s vigil. Nemir-Olivares told QNS that the fact that Alexa’s death was filmed and shared on social media demonstrates that it was a hate crime.

“We demand not only the local government but the federal government to step in,” Nemir-Olivares said. “We need actions that demonstrate that we stand with the transgender community and the LGBTQ community.”

Nemir-Olivares called for policy from the Puerto Rican government that shows that they stand with the transgender and LGBTQ+ community.

Angélica Acevedo/QNS

“Because let’s be clear, the government killed Alexa,” Nemir-Olivares said. “Our inaction, transgender negligence, killed Alexa and so many LGBTQ people in Puerto Rico, who are still suffering.”

CBS News’ correspondent David Begnaud said the FBI started a hate crime investigation on March 3, based on the video that was spread on social media.

In the wake of Alexa’s death, many news outlets in Puerto Rico not only misgendered her but also addressed her in headlines as “a man wearing a skirt” or “a man dressed as a woman.”

Garcia said she wants to send the media a clear message when writing about trans people.

“We are in the 21st century and apparently many people live under rocks or they don’t want to accept that trans people exist too,” Garcia said. “Expressing my gender does not make me a criminal, wearing women’s clothing does not justify me being subjected to violence to lose my life.”