Three years ago, San Jose lawmakers voted to fly a rainbow flag over Chick-Fil-A—an effort to proclaim LGBTQ residents were welcome in one of the world’s most progressive cities. But not everyone shares that sentiment.
“I was walking my dog, had my hair down but was wearing my normal boy clothes and someone drove up (and said), ‘Hey f-word’ and then just drove off,” said KP Eugenio, who identifies as queer, referring to the homophobic slur.
Eugenio, co-founder of the burlesque variety show Circus of Sin at the Caravan Lounge, says he was targeted because he had his long hair out.
The venue is one of a handful of queer-friendly shows and bars in San Jose where people can build community without having to alter their identities. But it’s a different story when the drag queens take the main stage; they take their identities and transform them into larger-than-life character performances for the crowd.
Some queens take on a stage name when performing, but not Natalia Smüt Lopez—she wanted everyone to know exactly who she was.
Smüt, who was beloved by her friends in the drag community, was killed last month by her boyfriend. He faces murder charges from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office.
The advocacy group Human Rights Coalition lists Smüt’s killing as at least the 16th transgender and gender nonconforming person killed in the U.S. this year. The coalition reported four more killings since Smüt. If the rate of killings continues, this year will surpass 2020 in the number of transgender and gender nonconforming people killed.
More than 100 people celebrated her life at a City Hall gathering with flowers, posters and emotional testimonies from those who knew her. Overlooking her candle-lit mural, two people hung a pink, blue and white transgender rights flag along the stairs leading to the rotunda reading “End The Violence.”
“We really need to bring attention to trans and domestic violence in LGBT relationships,” said Kiara Ohlde, one of Smüt’s best friends. “She just wanted to be loved.”
According to a joint survey by the Scottish Transgender Alliance and the Stop Domestic Abuse organization, at least 45% of 872 transgender people surveyed said a partner or ex-partner has been physically abusive to them.
Tuesday’s San Jose City Council meeting adjourned in memory of Smüt, a recognition led by Councilmember Pam Foley. The City Hall tower and rotunda will be lit pink, blue and white from May 7-13 in honor of Smüt.
“I’m very sensitive to LGBTQ issues for many years,” Foley told San José Spotlight. “I had a brother who was gay, died of AIDS and had a very difficult life. (Anti-LGBTQ violence) happens everywhere and for us to think we’re in this bubble where it doesn’t occur is just wrong.”
Ohlde said Smüt was one of the only people she knew in San Jose who publicly advocated for trans lives and Black trans lives.
A 2015 Gallup poll showed Santa Clara, Sunnyvale and San Jose’s LGBTQ community is about 3.2% of the population, close to half the size of the community in San Francisco.
“(Natalia) would post about trans lives every day and she’d call people out like, ‘You guys talk about everything else but we never talk about trans lives, Black lives,’” Ohlde said. “I always heard from Natalia that a lot of people in the community didn’t care to understand the issues because it didn’t affect them.”
Facing discrimination throughout her life, Ohlde said Smüt confided in her the concerns she had that anti-Blackness and anti-trans discrimination existed in local LGBTQ spaces.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councilmember Raul Peralez noted that artists were harassed while painting the mural over the past several weeks.
“The fight still continues,” he said. “As much as we can show our support, especially as city leaders, it makes a huge difference.”
Contact Vicente Vera at [email protected] or follow him @vicentejvera on Twitter.