SANTA ANA – More than 100 people gathered Friday evening in downtown Santa Ana to remember a transgender woman found dead in what police consider suspicious circumstances.
Zoraida Reyes , 28, was found around 11 a.m. Thursday behind a Dairy Queen in the 200 block of North State College Boulevard, Anaheim police Lt. Bob Dunn said. An initial autopsy was completed Friday, but the official cause of death has not been determined pending toxicology and other testing.
Santa Ana Plaza, at the corner of 4th and French streets, was filled Friday evening with LGBT community members and others who knew Reyes.
Some of those who attended carried small pink, white and blue flags, while others held cardboard signs with slogans such as “Trans Lives Matter” and “Trans Love.”
The purpose of the gathering was to honor Reyes’ activism, said Javier Saucedo, who organized the event.
“She was a leader in our community,” he said, describing Reyes as shy but a bold advocate for LGBT rights.
Reyes was a member of the transgender Latina support group at The Center Orange County, Executive Director Kevin O’Grady said.
In addition, Reyes was active in other local and national groups advocating for the rights of transgender people and undocumented immigrants. She was born in Mexico, but grew up in Santa Ana and attended Century High School, Santa Ana College and UC Santa Barbara, fellow activists said.
Patty Malagon described Reyes as a “sweet person” who worked hard on LGBT issues. “She was very passionate,” Malagon said.
Malagon also believes Reyes’ death sends a strong message that more must be done to ensure equality for LGBT individuals. “We need to teach future generations how to love and respect people,” she said.
Lynnea Stuart added it’s difficult to lose a strong LGBT activist like Reyes. “We lost a star,” she said.
Members of Reyes’ family were in attendance Friday but declined to speak with the media. Following a short musical number, the crowd walked several blocks from Santa Ana Plaza to Sasscer Park at 4th and Ross streets.
Friends remembered her as sweet and sometimes shy, but also fearless when it came to her identity.
“We want people to celebrate her how she celebrated herself, as a woman,” said Rafael Solorzano, a friend for the past six years.
A spokesman for OC Human Relations, a nonprofit group that aims to eliminate intolerance and discrimination, said the group was aware of the death and waiting to hear more. The spokesman, Rusty Kennedy, said it’s difficult to track how many transgender people are victims of crimes because they often do not report to authorities to avoid disrespect or ridicule.
“This community is sort of in the shadows in many ways because of fear of interacting with the government as well as the public in general,” he said.
Part of the mission of OC Human Relations is to connect family and friends of hate-crime victims with resources as they navigate the system, Kennedy said. He added that his group, and the county government as a whole, was saddened to hear about a possible hate crime.
“We haven’t heard enough facts to really know,” he said.
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