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A transgender woman who was brutally murdered last month has become a symbol for the fight against injustice in her community, remembered for her strength and bravery.
The body of 22-year-old Marilyn Cazares was discovered inside an abandoned building in Brawley, California after authorities responded to a fire report the morning of July 13. Cazares’ family was informed that she had been stabbed to death, PEOPLE reports.
The murder, which remains unsolved more than a month later, left many in the small town’s LGBTQ community badly shaken. But Brawley isn’t giving in to a message of fear, Rosa Diaz, CEO of the Imperial Valley LGBT Resource Center, told Oxygen.com. Instead, Cazares’ death has become a rallying point for the town’s queer community, which draws inspiration from the woman’s indomitable memory.
“People that have been closeted for some time can say, ‘I’m not alone. It’s time to come forward,’” Diaz said.
Marilyn Cazares, born Nathan Cazares, embraced who she was from a very young age, according to local newspaper The Desert Review. Her sister, Aubrey, told the paper how Cazares used to walk around in her mother’s dress and jewelry as a kid. She always loved dressing up in wigs and “crazy outfits,” and when she moved out at 18, she started going by “Marilyn” – after Marilyn Monroe, Aubrey said.
Cazares saw her family intermittently after moving out, but for the most part, “the streets are where she felt accepted,” Aubrey told local newspaper the Desert Sun. While homeless, she also struggled with a meth addiction and engaged in prostitution, relatives told the paper.
The morning of July 13, firefighters discovered Cazares’ dead body while responding to a report that a couch had been set on fire, the Holtville Tribune, a local newspaper, reports.
Her family was devastated. With at least 26 confirmed murders of transgender and gender non-conforming people in the U.S., 2020 has been a particularly deadly year for the community, according to the Human Rights Campaign. But in a small town like Brawley, most weren’t expecting those numbers to hit so close to home.
“These things don’t just happen in big cities. They happen in our backyard,” Diaz told Oxygen.com.
In the wake of that shock, Diaz said Brawley’s LGBTQ community has seen an astonishing wave of support. Dozens attended the “I Am Marilyn” march and vigil on Aug. 2, speaking out against transphobic violence and advocating for acceptance, the Imperial Valley Press reports. A GoFundMe fundraiser for Cazares’ funeral raised over $14,000, and plans are in the works to found a scholarship in her honor, Diaz said.
Meanwhile, the transgender support group Diaz helps run has seen a wave of fresh faces, and more people than ever seem willing to speak up about their identities, Diaz said.
For those that knew her, Cazares’ legacy continues to shine as a beacon of hope.
“A lot of people thought she was inspiring. She was looked up to, just living life. She didn’t care what other people said,” Cazares’ aunt, Mindy Garcia, told the Desert Sun.
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