The Crying Game

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Wesley Thomas says there's a rash of denial and homophobia among the Tribal Council members.

"People who have respect for other people do not run for the Tribal Council," Thomas says. "The Tribal Council always seems to look for something that is trivial, something to keep themselves entertained. They don't even have enough money to fix potholes, and they're worrying about gay marriage.

"I think that at the same time that we as Navajos have lost ownership of our culture, having assimilated to Western ways," he says, "we have become culturally arrogant."

For the past few years, Native American T-girls have been afraid to work the streets of Phoenix. Most have assimilated to working in the sex trade via the Internet or escort agencies.

"I haven't seen any Native Americans on Van Buren, gosh, in at least six months," says Phoenix Police Vice Sergeant Chris Bray. "But those [transgender] girls used to go down there in droves. As many as 30 of them a day."

Many, like Tionne, a slender 28-year-old Navajo with almond-shaped eyes, continues to work off and on as a prostitute. She rattles off the names of friends she says have been murdered -- either shot, stabbed or beaten to death.




"And there were others. They just disappeared," says Tionne, sitting in the parking lot of the Native American Community Health Center in central Phoenix, where the Native American Pathways Prevention Project is located. Many of the girls who work on the street attend weekly group meetings organized by the project, and get tested for HIV and other STDs.

The outreach coordinator for the Native American Pathways Prevention Project, Trudie Jackson, as well as Tionne and five other queens who attend the weekly meetings (and asked that their identities not be revealed), told New Times that they, too, knew of the same girls being murdered while working Van Buren.

Unfortunately, the girls only knew each other by their street names and didn't have exact dates for the murders, making it impossible to even ask for police reports.

A search for recent transgender deaths through the medical examiner's office was fruitless, because victims are not listed as their chosen sexual gender, but rather by the one to which they were born.

Cliff Jewell, a Phoenix police homicide detective, agreed to search a database of all hate crimes from the past 10 years for New Times, but by press time had been unable to find any possible matches for the homicides Jackson, Tionne and others described.

In fact, Phoenix police were only able to provide reports on two confirmed homicides. But just those have been enough to scare most of the TGs off the street, if not entirely out of the sex trade.

On March 4, 2002, two City of Phoenix sanitation workers were driving down an alley north of Thomas Road on 18th Street when one of them noticed the lifeless body of Alejandro Lucero hunched over in an alcove.

Lucero was a 26-year-old Hopi transgender. Months earlier, according to police reports, he'd moved to Phoenix from Gallup, New Mexico. He moved in with his brother, Lorenzo, also a transgender, and they were living together in a central Phoenix apartment.

When the sanitation workers discovered Alejandro Lucero's body, he was dressed in a woman's blue tank top, a strapless padded bra, "low rider" jeans, and blue thong panties. It wasn't until forensic investigators showed up almost an hour after Lucero's body was discovered that police realized Alejandro was not, in fact, a woman.

At the conclusion of an autopsy the next day, when Lucero was "found to have abrasions and contusions to the lower left edge of his jaw, down the left side of his neck and on the upper left portion of his chest," the medical examiner determined that Lucero had died from strangulation and blunt-force trauma.

"We were never able to establish who Alejandro really was," says one Phoenix homicide detective who asked that his name not be revealed, as he continues to work on the case almost four years later. "His murder was the first time he ever popped up on anybody's radar screen."

Raymond Soos -- known on the street and to friends as "Amy" -- was different. The Salt River Pima Indian was known to work Van Buren and frequent gay dive bars looking for tricks.

On February 16, 2002, just weeks before Lucero's murder, Soos hopped into a stranger's car for the last time. Phoenix police determined that Soos, after a night in downtown Phoenix, was picked up somewhere near the former Cruisin' Central (a gay bar that has since moved to Seventh Street, and is now known as Cruisin' 7th), either turning a trick or just looking for a ride back to her home on the reservation just south of Casino Arizona.

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Joe Watson