Edward Araujo Jr. was the name on the birth certificate, but most people knew the teenager by the name she preferred: Gwen. Araujo died before getting the chance to make the name change official. At
17, she was beaten and strangled after the people she thought were her friends found out she was biologically male. On Tuesday, Araujo's family did what she never had the chance to do, asking a
court for a posthumous name change to Gwen Amber Rose Araujo. "She's Gwen to me, and I'm her mother," Sylvia Guerrero said outside the courthouse. "This is who she was. She's transgender, and she's Gwen."
Superior court commissioner Thomas Surh called the request "a novel situation" and said he would let Guerrero know his decision in about a month. After the brief hearing, Guerrero said she hoped the name change would be granted and would be accepted by the news media and society. "I lost Eddie a long time ago, and I had to say goodbye to Eddie," she said. "Unfortunately, to Gwen too."
Araujo had used the name Gwen for years, according to her family, convinced from an early age that her sexual and biological identities conflicted. Her name became famous in October 2002 when police found her body in a shallow grave 150 miles east of her home in the San Francisco suburb of Newark. The man who took police to the body, 21-year-old Jaron Nabors, would eventually tell a shocking story of how Araujo was viciously beaten and strangled following the revelation of her gender during a late-night confrontation with people she thought were her friends. Three men are on trial for the killing--Nabors has already pleaded guilty to manslaughter--in a case that is expected to go to a jury next week.
Two of the defendants had been sexually active with the teenager, known to them as Lida. Araujo's identity has been a big part of the trial, with the attorney for one defendant portraying the assault as the result of immature and drunken young men being panicked by the discovery they had been sexually deceived. Transgender advocates and Araujo's family take issue with that, saying that far from being deceptive, Araujo was presenting her true self to the world.
Officially recognizing Araujo as Gwen is an important symbolic step, said Christopher Daley of the San Francisco-based Transgender Law Center, which was assisting the family in the name-change request. "The courts serve as a voice for the people of California," said Daley. "By filing this petition, we gave the people an opportunity to explicitly recognize Gwen as Gwen." Araujo picked the name Gwen after the singer Gwen Stefani, Guerrero said. Guerrero added Amber Rose because those were the names she picked when she was pregnant with Araujo, believing she was carrying a girl. After speaking with reporters Tuesday, Guerrero and other friends and family members released purple balloons into the sky in Araujo's memory. Guerrero kissed her balloon before releasing it. "I love you, Gwen Amber Rose Araujo," she said as the balloon sailed into a wide blue sky.