There May Be Justice For Jennifer Laude, Trans Filipina Murdered by US Marine

The story of a trans woman of color being murdered is, disturbingly, an all too common one. In fact, since the beginning of October, at least three trans women of color have been murdered and two more have been the victims of high profile violent crimes. One victim is Jennifer Laude, a trans Filipina who was apparently murdered by an American Marine, who was in the Philippines as a part of a military exercise.

Jennifer Laude via Facebook

Jennifer Laude via Facebook

Reports say Ms. Laude was with a friend and a “foreigner” with a military-style haircut at a hotel after leaving a local disco bar. Laude’s friend told police Laude was nervous that the man would find out the they were both transgender. Unfortunately, her body was later found in the hotel with signs of strangulation after her worst fears came true.

Transmisogyny and racism are dominating and toxic forces in our world, and when the two intersect, the result is often deadly. With this case, there’s an extra dose of Imperialism to make things even worse. Trans people (and mainly trans women of color) are so often the victims of violent crimes and murder that we have a day to mark the violence that has happened during the past year — Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Protesters in Manila via NY Daily News

Protesters in Manila via NY Daily News

There have been protests in both the US and in the Philippines demanding justice for Laude and an end to the continued presence of US troops in the Philippines. On the 14th, around 40 protesters showed up and burned an American flag outside the US Embassy in Manila to show that they would not stand by silently. They waved flags and held signs that read “US troops out now!” and “No to US bases in PH!” Corky Hope Maranan, leader of a Filipina trans and lesbian group said that the crime is “…just so abominable. It’s one of the worst hate crimes I’ve seen,” and demanded that an arrest be made.

This month’s barrage of tragic transmisogynistic violence started with the horrifying case of Mayang Prasetyo, an Indonesian trans woman living in Australia who was brutally murdered by her husband, and the murder of Aniya Parker in Los Angeles, both around October 2. Next, this case of a US Marine being charged with the murder of a Filipina trans woman. On October 12, a trans woman was beaten with a 2×4 in New York after some men found out she was trans and started shouting slurs at her. Finally, a trans woman named Alexia Dupree Taylor was attacked in Memphis around the 15th.

So often with murders of and attacks on trans women of color, the police refuse to call it a hate crime or even arrest a suspect and bring charges. However, after the protests, the US Marine is now being held and has been charged with the murder of Jennifer Laude. Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is currently in US custody, but a senior Philippine official said that the Philippine government wants to take custody of him and that this case could damage the military relationship between the US and the Philippines.

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Mey Rude is a fat, trans, Latina lesbian living in LA. She's a writer, journalist, and a trans consultant and sensitivity reader. You can follow her on twitter, or go to her website if you want to hire her.

Mey has written 572 articles for us.


  1. So the Philippine government is willing to damage an already tense relationship with a major military power so they can ensure justice is done? This is already a better response than I expected when I first heard this story.

  2. Thabjs for covering this, Mey. Makes me wonder what kind of response this would have had if the murderer wasn’t a foreign soldier though…

    • “Makes me wonder what kind of response of the murderer wasn’t a foreign soldier though”. There’s no denying that there’s a lot of transsexism and homophobia in the Philippines. But the death of Jennifer is a BIG ISSUE because it’s one EMBROILED with issues of US NEO IMPERIALIASM.

      You see, the Visiting Forces Agreement which the Philippines signed with USA grants extraterritorial rights to the US in Philippine soil. Basically, you have US BASES which are not under Phil jurisdiction, and it’s standing right on Philippine soil. Now, throughout the history of the bases agreements with the Philippines, there have constantly been cases of rape, murder, and other atrocities committed by US SOLDIERS against Filipinos who ‘made the mistake’ of going near the US bases. None of the perpetrators have been brought to justice. This is because the US government and it’s lapdog – the Philippine government – always let the jarhead who did it get away. Again, this has something to do with the US bases and it’s personnel being Under Use jurisdiction. Laude’s murderer is being Protecte by the US military. The Philippine government isn’t taking action, and there are demonstrations in Manila and in Quezon City against this blatant show of US imperialism.

      In 2005, a young woman named Nicole was gang raped by five US soldiers. NONE of them were brought to justice. There was a massive backlash in the Philippines against US forces and the US embassy finally gave up ONE of the rapists, but in 2009, the rape survivor was pressured by the US embassy and the Philippine government to grant Daniel Smith (the rapist) a pardon, so we was sent back to the US, free as a bird.

      In 2009, there was an underreported case of a highschool student who was raped by US soldiers and Philippine coast guards. There’s even a saying in the Philippines ‘there’s blood and FOOTPRINTS on our sand, wherever US soldiers go (see the book GAPO) – just to give you a picture of how US soldiers are practically f-cking up the Philippines by building bases there.

      • Yes, this is exactly what I’m referring to – the fact that people are outraged because yet again a US soldier has committed atrocious acts against a Filipin@. I’m cynical that there wouldn’t be this much national attention if a trans Pinay had been murdered by a fellow Pinoy.

        • Actually, it’s NOT GETTING the attention it deserves here in the Philippines. Which is a shame, really. But you have tons of progressive organizations here fighting for Laude. And a lot of the lack of media attention has something to do with US intervention, btw. A lot of hate crimes that happen near US bases don’t get reported because of US intervention. So it’s nots just misogyny and transmisogyny that are at play here, it’s the racism, man. It’s the continuing treatment of the Philippines as the US’s little brown sister.

          ‘The fact that there’s outrage because yet again a US soldier has killed another Filipina’ – somehow I suspect you’re missing the point here, which is also why I commented that this article lacks the really important angle of US Imperialism in Southeast Asia in how it tackled Laude’s death. The fact is, Laude’s murderer is getting away with it due to government intervention from the US. You can’t remove the issue of US imperialism at all in the injustice being committed against Laude.

          If a trans pinay was killed by another pinoy, the issue of race wouldn’t be involved at all but that it an entirely different issue from what you have here since the government wouldn’t be actively involved in letting the killer away.

        • Ah, I guess I misunderstood this story’s coverage within the PI itself. You’re absolutely right, the aspect of US imperialism distorts a lot of how this story is being told (and ultimately affects even what happened to Laude). Thanks for your comments – they’ve been very insightful.

  3. Mayang Prasetyo’s murder was particularly awful because of the disgusting way she was treated by the media after her death. One outlet in particular, the Courier-Mail, used a trans-misogynistic slur on the front page. They also used sexualised photographs of Mayang to illustrate the story (all lifted from her Facebook despite an abundance of more ordinary photos) and spoke about her purely in terms of her previous sex work despite it have exactly no relevance to her murder. Encouragingly, there was national outrage which sparked a number of petitions demanding an apology from the CM (50K+ signatures on one) and an investigation from the Australian Press Council.

  4. I’m just chatting with a Filipina friend who’s been following the case quite carefully. Apparently, there hasn’t been a warrant for his arrest, and his identity hasn’t been revealed to the public. As far as anyone knows, he’s still stationed on his ship and there have been no major attempts by the government to track him down.

    Also, it seems like most people are completely comfortable with transmisogynist victim-blaming, so these kinds of protests are in the minority.

    • He is under detention but has not been formally arrested. He has, however, been identified… he’s Joseph Scott Pemberton from New Bedford, Massachusetts. He has already admitted that he did “something very bad.” If by that, I wonder if he means murdering her by shoving her head in a toilet bowl until she drowned, which was how she died. What made me especially sick was seeing the responses in the military newspapers reporting this story, where marine corps vets were going on and on about all the “bennies” (their slang word for pinay trans sex workers) and how ‘you’ve got to watch yourself because they’ll try and trick you.’

      • Thanks for the article. The rest…is fucking horrific. I can’t imagine how drowning someone in a toilet could ever be successfully argued as a crime of passion.

  5. You guys. You beautiful people, you. I’m glad to see that this issue is being covered here in Autostraddle. like I just shat a rainbow out of sheer happiness.

    But there’s something missing in the equation here, because while the killing of Jennifer is a Hate Crime, it’s also one which is rooted deeply in racism and imperialism. You see, The US of A has a history of pretty much f-cking up the Philippines since she sneakily bought her from Spain in 1898. Since then, US bases have been built there, for – oh you know…attacking Vietnam, China, and Japan. During the Martial Law era in the Philippines, the US played a huge part in supporting and keeping Dictator Ferdinand Marcos in power. And this Marcos guy, he did hugely support the US bases agreement in the Philippines.

    In the Philippines, WHEREVER there ARE US bases, there will be rape. There will be killing. There will be prostitution. There will be a huge displacement of indigenous people and poor fisherfolk (see the case of the Aetas in Subic). And none of those rapes and killings will ever be bought to justice because the US military and the US government – with the assistance of the Phil government of course – lets all those soldiers get away with those crimes. This is bound to happen to Jennifer too.

    • “WHEREVER there ARE US bases, there will be rape.”


      Rape case involving a baby who was snatched from her homeless parents, Rape case involving a student from university of the philippines in los banos, Gang rape case involving a 7 year old girl from paco manila. These rape cases are done by filipino citizens. Let’s not whitewash the national crimes done by our own people just because of an isolated case against a foreigner.

      • I honestly don’t think anyone is pretending that these horrific crimes don’t occur within the Pinoy population already, but it’s naive to act like the disproportionately high number of crimes associated with foreign US military bases (because it’s not like this is only a PI problem) isn’t a reflection of imperialist notions. One can criticize the toxic effects of having US military personnel in countries that don’t want them without discounting the problems caused by the natural citizens of the countries they’re based in.

        • US military is one of the top and the best service force out there. It’s the reason why other countries wants them gone and out of the picture. The military system of any country will never be entirely perfect. Unless the military officers are robots. I’m not making an excuse for a service man like pemberton. He should be put to trial and rot in jail. But that’s just it, some of us are pro military and some are anti.

  6. I don’t want the US military to leave our islands. We can’t defend our territory alone. It cuts my heart in deep sorrow when i see filipino paper boats being bullied by china’s humongous ships.

    I have no doubt in my mind that this isolated case is against a transgender woman. The cctv’s recording is clear and nobody else is involved. It was just him and his bigotry against Jennifer. It’s a hate crime between two people. It’s not a hate crime between the philippines and america.

    Jennifer was engaged to be married with a german national. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the murder but it could be a possibility. He might’ve found out and felt jealous or something. Passion of crime, perhaps. Regardless of the motive, Jennifer deserves justice. Her face was shoved inside a toilet for christ sake!

    • “Jennifer was engaged to be married with a german national. I’m not sure if it has anything to do with the murder but it could be a possibility. He might’ve found out and felt jealous or something. Passion of crime, perhaps.” I get you don’t want the US military to leave, but I think this is a pretty cr*ppy kind of wish fulfillment and pointing the guilty finger. He wasn’t in the Philippines when the murder happened and it’s pretty much a certainty that Pemberton committed this murder (there is video of Jennifer and him entering the hotel together). Nor did Pemberton have any prior connection with the islands… so it’s not especially likely a man living in Germany would hire a 19-year old who didn’t have any guarantee of even being in the Philippines to murder his fiancee. I think there are other ways of making your point than coming up with murder accusations about people which seemingly have little basis in fact.

      • @ginapdx WOAH! Hold up! I wasn’t trying to point the blame on the german fiance! I was trying to indicate that PEMBERTON was romantically sprung with jennifer, in which triggered the jealousy when he found out that jennifer was set to be married with some other lucky guy.

        • I’m sorry if I misinterpreted what you wrote but it is easily liable for to be misunderstood from the way it’s written. In reality, Pemberton only knew her for an hour or two before murdering her so if he’s “insanely jealous” that would still be a fairly bizarre explanation… nor would it be likely she would be telling a customer about her fiancee. Seeing there were several used condoms found at the murder scene (making it extremely unlikely the sight of her genitals ‘drove him to this’), far more likely he murdered her for the reason most men who’ve had sex with trans women do it… after they’ve realized they were genuinely turned on by her, try to expunge their shame and guilt through violence and getting rid of the woman who caused him to doubt his heterosexuality. If we’re going to indulge in concocting theories then mine is a lot more to the point than yours is. I have little doubt his defense is going to totally revolve around trans panic and “temporary insanity.”

    • We have NOTHING TO GAIN from the VFA agreement. Just look at our history. The first time the US set up a base here, there was the Phil-American War. Then they used it to fly plane to vietnam. Then in WWII one of the reasons we were so brutally bombed by the Japanese was due to US presence in our country. Wa Mc Arthur able to do anything then? NO. They supported the Marcoses. They’ve turned Subic into a ‘flesh trade center’. The only reason we’re still letting them in because we’re US lapdogs and we’ve deluded ourselves into thinking that this is a solution to the ‘Chinese aggression problem’. Well big news: This is NOT a solution. China is getting pissed at US presence in the Philippines. Look up our history and the effects of having bases here, and try finding if there are actual benefits. Then look up the actual rape and murder rates. Those are the real thing.

      • @santo NOTHING TO GAIN? are you trying to make me laugh? Sure, There are cons attached to the known american allies but there are much pros about it too. Please step outside of your house and look for a public vehicle called a jeepney and tell me where it’s from. Please open up an encyclopedia and tell me who influenced us to read in english. Please search up the university of the philippines and tell me something about an american named William Morgan Shuster.


        You’re talking like the japanese wouldn’t have invaded us if we just welcomed them with open arms and served them adobo in a plate, instead of the useless stupid plan of fighting back against them. Right. Everything would’ve been peaceful between us if we did that.
        Guess what, they would have still done the same thing to us because it was the major part of their instruction. Starting from the japanese imperial army to the lower ranked japanese soldiers. Their duty was to RAPE, MURDER, AND STEAL THE GOLDS, from the filipino citizens. They would have still sexually abused the comfort women and the comfort men, regardless!

        I hate pemberton. I don’t agree with pemberton. I don’t applaud pemberton. But that was a crime between him and one filipino woman. It’s not a crime between the ENTIRE military officers and our people.
        If one of our family members did something bad, Should the whole clan be blamed for it? Call me naive but No! I will not accept that kind of judgment.

  7. There’s a jurisdictional tug of war here: Theoretically, Pemberton can be tried in the U.S. – murder is definitely a violation of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (think like a penal code but for the military), and he could face trial in a USMC court martial in which a jury composed of military officers wold determine his guilt, with right to appeal to the Navy-Marine Corps Court of Appeals. And if fond guilty, he could spend a very, very long time in the military prison at Ft. Leavenworth, or for that matter even get the death penalty.

    Or he could be turned over to Filipino authorities where he’d be questioned by the police authorities in charge of the investigation there, and be charged and stand trial in a local court (whose procedures I am not one bit familiar with) and if found guilty serve out the sentence in the Philippines (though depending on treaties, he could ask to serve it out in the US). In this case, he would be facing justice just like any other foreigner who visits the Philippines and is subject to its laws… which would only be fair. Its what would happen to any of us who visited another country than our own and killed someone there.

    The problem is, the USMC looks after its own – so even if he’s prosecuted and court martialed back in the states, even if his CO is the first one that wants him hanging, they’ll try to protect the bastard and will try to use the “he’ll face military justice in the US” to not leave him behind in the Philippines. Which leads to something: If the US never hands him over, advocates need to insist he face justice under the UCMJ and isn’t forgotten under any “boys will be boys” asshattery by the JAG.

    (source of all this knowledge: Law school graduate, hopefully an attorney once I get my bar exam results)

    • Pemberton has just been transferred to Camp Aguinaldo, a Philippine military base in Quezon City and also has an attorney from the Philippines. I quote the following from a local paper:

      “Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows U.S. forces to conduct combat drills in the country, the Philippines can prosecute American service members, but the U.S. has custody over them “from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.” The Philippine Supreme Court, however, ruled in 2009 that convicted U.S. military personnel must serve any sentence in Philippine detention.”

      I think that’s pretty much decided the jurisdiction issue. This is not going to be a military trial.

      • A subpoena was served to him. He didn’t appear in court and five witnesses were sent back by to the US by the army. You guys, the US Government and Philippine government are actively involved in the injustice being done here.

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