Transgender teen harassed at school, friends say

17-year-old killed Oct. 3 had stopped attending

October 27, 2002|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

SAN JOSE, Calif. - Friends and relatives of Eddie Araujo say they understand why the 17-year-old who often identified himself as Gwen, Lida or Wendy was so uncomfortable at school that he stopped making an effort to attend.

Faced with a complex web of other problems, Araujo lost interest in school and fell behind. By the start of this school year, which would have been his senior year, he had stopped attending school entirely and had given up on graduating in June. For years before his killing Oct. 3, friends said, classmates taunted the transgender youth for the way he dressed and the way he acted.

"We used to walk home together in junior high," said Stephanie Baumann, a close friend, adding that he was routinely subjected to anti-gay slurs. "He had a lot of issues, and people always teased him."

Normally, Araujo would have attended Newark Memorial High School, the city's main high school. The school has taken great pains to address the issues of tolerance and sexual identity this year.

Newark Memorial Principal Jack Roach has announced over the school's intercom that he will not tolerate anti-gay slurs. On Nov. 8, the school will perform The Laramie Project, a play that chronicles the life of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming college student who was beaten to death in October 1998.

But the measures came too late for Araujo.

Some Newark Memorial students have told teachers this week that they can relate to the suspects who are accused of beating Araujo to death.

"I've actually had students say that they might have done the same thing," said David Bible, a 1992 graduate of Newark Memorial who manages its theater. "They've asked me, `Wouldn't you have hit him too?'"

Stunned by the killing, Newark school officials are stepping up their efforts to combat hate and at the same time comprehend a horrific crime that allegedly involves former students.

Superintendent Ken Sherer said the school district will meet with city officials tomorrow to plan a community forum on tolerance. The district will also provide in-depth training on gender issues to teachers and students. And school trustee Eileen McDonald plans to visit Jaron Nabors and Jose Merel, two of the young men who are being charged with Araujo's death, in jail.

"I knew these boys," McDonald said. "They all went to Newark Memorial. I want to ask them what we could have done to help, so that we can prevent this from happening to other kids. Then I'll feel at ease."

By all accounts, Araujo was an at-risk student. He attended Snow Elementary and Newark Junior High School, but by the eighth grade he was struggling academically. He went to American High School in Fremont for the ninth grade, then attended Bridgepoint, a small alternative high school in Newark, for part of his sophomore year.

"Eddie bounced around quite a bit," said Kurt Carter, the Bridgepoint principal. "He really wasn't involved in school. His attendance was always against him. He came to school only half the time."

Araujo later transferred to Crossroads, the district's independent study program. But he was so far behind in credits that it was clear he wouldn't graduate on time. Teachers said that calls to Araujo's home were never returned.

The Newark Unified School District cannot release Araujo's cumulative academic record because of confidentiality concerns.

Sylvia Guerrero, Araujo's mother, said: "There was no support here for my son."

"Eddie did not fall through the cracks," said Paul Clifford, a Newark resident who is an active member of PFLAG, or Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. "He was forced into a crack. He was labeled as a kid who obviously wasn't going to make it. The counselors are not only not serving these kids, they are completely unaware of them."

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