First nonbinary Mexican magistrate found dead at home

MEXICO CITY — The first openly nonbinary person to assume a judicial position in Mexico was found dead in their home Monday in the central Mexican city of Aguascalientes after receiving death threats because of their gender identity, authorities said.

The Aguascalientes state prosecutor’s office confirmed that Jesús Ociel Baena was found dead Monday morning next to another person, who local media and LGBTQ rights groups identified as their partner.

State prosecutor Jesús Figueroa Ortega said in a news conference that the victims displayed injuries apparently caused by a knife or some other sharp object.

Jesús Ociel Baena Saucedo.via Facebook

“There are no signs or indications to be able to determine that a third person other than the dead was at the site of the crime,” he said.

Mexico Security Secretary Rosa Icela Rodríguez said in a press briefing that authorities were investigating the death and it remained unclear if “it was a homicide or an accident.” Some murder investigations in Mexico have a history of being quickly minimized by authorities as crimes of passion.

Alejandro Brito, director of the LGBTQ rights group Letra S, said that Baena’s visibility on social media made them a target and urged authorities to take that context into consideration in their investigation.

“They were a person who received many hate messages, and even threats of violence and death, and you can’t ignore that in these investigations,” Brito said. “They, the magistrate, was breaking through the invisible barriers that closed in the nonbinary community.

Baena was among the most visible LGBTQ figures in a country where queer communities are often violently targeted, and had already received death threats.

Baena, an openly nonbinary person, made history in October 2022 when they assumed the role as magistrate for the Aguascalientes state electoral court. They were believed to be the first in Latin America to assume a judicial position. In June Baena broke through another barrier when they were among a group of people to be issued Mexico’s first nonbinary passports.

Baena would regularly publish photos and videos of themselves in skirts, heels and toting a rainbow fan in court offices and advocating on social media platforms with hundreds of thousands of followers.

“I am a nonbinary person, I am not interested in being seen as either a woman or a man. This is an identity. It is mine, for me, and nobody else” Baena posted on X, formerly Twitter, in June. “Accept it.”

Just weeks before their death, Baena was presented with a certificate by the electoral court recognizing them with gender neutral pronouns as a “maestre,” a significant step in Spanish, a language that historically splits the language between two genders, male and female.

While Brito said Mexico has made significant steps in reducing levels of anti-LGBTQ violence in recent decades, his group registered a significant uptick in such violence in 2019, documenting at least 117 lesbian, gay and bisexual and transgender people killed in the country. Many were grisly killings, including brutal stabbings and public slayings.

Brito said he worried that the death of Baena could provoke further acts of violence against queer communities.

“If this was a crime motivated by prejudice, these kinds of crimes always have the intention of sending a message,” Brito said. “The message is an intimidation, it’s to say: ‘This is what could happen to you if you make your identities public.’”

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