In the unexciting, neutral setting of Mexico’s courtrooms for elections, Jesús Ociel Baena stood out. The magistrate, who identifies as non-binary, accessorized their shirt and tie with vibrant skirts, high heels, and bold red lipstick. In the hot climate of Aguascalientes state, Baena, who prefers they/their pronouns, would dramatically use a rainbow fan to beat the heat.
Proudly out in the courtroom, the classroom and on social media, Baena was a beacon for Mexico’s queer population, and their death this week has sent shock waves through an embattled community.
Karim García expressed that as a transgender man, Ociel symbolized visibility and fortitude to him. Ociel empowered him to confidently present his true self to the world.
During a protest in support of the judge on Monday evening, García proudly displayed a hand-drawn portrait of Baena along with their colorful hand fan. The message on the drawing read, “We are calling for justice!”
Authorities reported that Baena was discovered deceased at their residence, alongside an individual who was identified by local news outlets as Baena’s significant other.
On Monday evening, LGBTQ+ Mexicans protested nationwide and refuted the government’s initial statement that Baena’s death was a result of a “personal issue.” Instead, they asserted that the death was fueled by the ongoing hate, discrimination, and violence against the community.
A large number of people paraded on Reforma Avenue in Mexico City, shouting “Justice” and “Crime of passion? A national deception!” They proudly waved flags representing the LGBTQ+ community, including rainbow, trans, and non-binary flags, while also using rainbow hand fans to cool themselves.
Protests of a similar nature took place in various cities, such as Monterrey, Puebla, and Baena’s place of origin, Aguascalientes.
García expressed the loss to our community as a painful one. He emphasized the significance of having representatives in government who truly represent the people, which has been lacking in the past.
Baena served as a judge for the Aguascalientes State Electoral Institute and also taught at the Autonomous University of Aguascalientes. They challenged traditional language norms by refusing to use Spanish word endings that indicate gender.
Baena substituted the term le magistrade for the traditionally male-gendered el magistrado, and in October 2022 they made history by becoming the first person in Mexico and Latin America to receive a non-binary magistrate title. In May 2023, Mexico’s foreign relations ministry issued Baena the first non-binary passport in the country. Recently, Baena also obtained the first “maestre” title in electoral law, which is a non-gendered term for professor.
Enrique Torre Molina, who is an activist and co-founder of the LGBTQ+ organization Colmena 41, stated that Ociel’s role as a public servant was a clear indication of the progress we have achieved.
According to Torre Molina, a diversity consultant for the federal government, the recent victory was also a success for the LGBTQ+ community. They have been able to build relationships and gain support from government officials. However, there is still a lack of support from the top levels of government for the LGBTQ+ community.
The queer community in Mexico is specifically angered by the hasty conclusions made by authorities during their investigation into Baena’s death.
Several hours following the deaths of Baena and their significant other, Jesús Figueroa Ortega, the attorney general of Aguascalientes state, stated that both individuals were discovered holding razor blades, which is believed to have caused their injuries.
According to Figueroa’s statement in a press conference, there were no indications of a third person being inside the residence and the front door was secured. The two individuals arrived at approximately 1:00am and after reviewing the surveillance footage, it was determined that no other individuals entered the house before or after their arrival.
Additionally, he stated that the authorities discovered blood on the bed and tracked bloody footprints throughout the residence.
During the time period of 2018-2022, the organization Letra S, which advocates for LGBTQ+ rights, recorded 453 homicides within the community. However, they believe that the true number is likely to be significantly greater. The majority of these victims were transgender individuals, with 13 reported deaths in the first five months of 2023.
According to Alejandro Brito, the head of Letra S, Baena’s presence on social media has made them vulnerable and he called on authorities to take this into account during their inquiry.
Brito stated that the individual in question received numerous hateful messages and even faced violent and deadly threats. This cannot be overlooked during the investigation process.
Supporters of Baena have also been subjected to threats. One individual shared comments they received while streaming a response to Baena’s passing on TikTok.
A commenter stated that you will experience the same fate as the magistrate.
Baena’s most recent public appearance was in a video shared on social media. In the video, they were wearing heels, a long skirt, and bold red lipstick as they performed a skit about the state electoral board’s efforts to provide opportunities for the LGBTQ+ community, individuals with disabilities, and those over the age of 60.
“Hey, LGBTQ+ community,” Baena says playfully, using a rainbow hand fan to cool themself off. “Don’t forget to register, it’s your political and electoral right to be a part of the electoral authority.”
One commenter suggested either taking control of the electoral authority office or pursuing Ociel Baena.
Someone created a petition asking for the removal of the video by Ociel Baena, who was referred to as “degenerate.”
“I refuse to remove my post!” Baena replied.