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As Old Murder Case Takes On New Life, Some Transgender People Dare Hope

Outraged by a long-ignored slaying in Honduras, lawyers are urging a human rights court in Central America to force governments to better protect transgender people in a region where they are targets.


In a region where experts put the life expectancy for transgender women at only 30 to 35 years, Vicky Hernández didn’t make it even that long.

Ms. Hernández was 26 when she was found shot in the eye on a Honduras street, a slug of unknown caliber and a used condom beside her body.

Twelve years later, investigators still have not run forensic tests on that evidence. It is still not clear whether the authorities ever performed an autopsy. And two other transgender women who reported having witnessed a police patrol car roll up to Ms. Hernández just before she ran off and went missing were themselves killed within a year of her death.

the Hernández case puts a spotlight on a pattern of abuse against vulnerable people in Honduras, it is being closely watched in a region where many countries remain hostile toward transgender people.

The court, based in Costa Rica, could order the Honduran government to enact measures designed to prevent violence against transgender people, setting a legal precedent in the region.

Ms. Hernández’s murder in San Pedro Sula was among the first of an explosion of killings of transgender women in Honduras that followed a June 2009 coup in which the country’s president was rousted from bed and exiled.

The next morning, Ms. Hernández, a sex worker, was found dead after a night in which, because of a strict curfew, nobody but law enforcement and military authorities were supposed to be roaming the streets.

highest rate of murders of transgender and other gender diverse people in the world, with Brazil and Mexico close behind.

Sin Violencia LGBTI, a regional information network.

In Brazil last year, 175 transgender women were killed, according to the National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals. Already in 2021, 53 transgender people have been killed, according to the advocacy group, with the youngest victim just 13.

That has made the Vicky Hernández lawsuit of deep interest across the region.

“We are watching very closely as to how the result of the case could impact the situation in the region,” said Bruna Benevides, a researcher for Brazil’s National Association of Transvestites and Transsexuals, although she expressed doubt that her country’s conservative president, Jair Bolsonaro, would embrace any rulings that helped transgender people.

Rihanna Ferrera, who lost her run for office in Honduras in 2017 under her male birth name, said the case was important because it could force the government to at least make some tangible improvements, like allowing legal name changes. Ms. Ferrera’s sister, Bessy, who was also transgender, was murdered in 2019.

“After what happened to my sister, I decided not to leave and instead to confront this discrimination, stigma, violence and criminalization,” she said. “We need not to remove people from the danger. We need to confront the state and tell the state: Here we are, and we are in danger. We don’t have to leave. You, as the government, have to solve this.”

Oscar Lopez contributing reporting.

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Why We’re Freaking Out About Substack

Isaac Saul, who told me his nonpartisan political newsletter Tangle brought in $190,000 in its first year, wrote recently that he came to Substack “specifically to avoid being associated with anyone else” after being frustrated by readers’ assumptions about his biases when he worked for HuffPost.

One of the writers who left Substack over transgender issues, Jude Doyle, argued that its system of advances amounted to a kind of editorial policy. But the analogy to a media company isn’t clear. Grace Lavery said she wanted Substack to broaden its definition of harassment, but said she didn’t think threats to boycott the email service over writers she disagrees with made political sense. She has had bitter public disputes with other Substack writers, including the journalist Jesse Singal, over their writing on gender policy. “Boycotting Substack because of Jesse Singal would be like boycotting a paper company” over a writer who has books printed on their paper, she said.

Mr. Singal compared Substack with the unregulated, decentralized internet of a decade ago. “In the golden age of blogging, writers hated each other but they went back and forth over each other’s ideas. Now, people call the manager all the time,” he said.

So the biggest threat to Substack is unlikely to be the Twitter-centric political battles among some of its writers. The real threat is competing platforms with a different model. The most technically powerful of those is probably Ghost, which allows writers to send and charge for newsletters, with monthly fees starting at $9. While Substack is backed by the venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz, Ghost has Wikipedia vibes: It is open-source software developed by a nonprofit.

One of Substack’s biggest newsletters, The Browser, with 11,000 paid subscribers, left for Ghost last August. Nathan Tankus, an economics writer who is leaving Substack over trans issues, has also moved to Ghost. David Sirota, who runs the left-leaning investigative site The Daily Poster, said he was considering leaving for Outpost, a system built on Ghost, because “we want our operation and our brand to stand on its own.”

And it’s easy to leave. Unlike on Facebook or Twitter, Substack writers can simply take their email lists and direct connections to their readers with them.

Substack’s model of taking 10 percent of its writers’ subscriptions is “too greedy of a slice to take of anyone’s business with very little in return,” said Ghost’s founder and chief executive, John O’Nolan, a tattooed, nomadic Irishman who is bivouacked in Hollywood, Fla. He said he believed subscription newsletter publishing was “destined to be commoditized.”

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