MEXICO CITY — Mexican transgender rights activists Kenya Cuevas and Andrea Luna sat in front of their longtime friend Paola Buenrostro’s pink grave in Mexico City.
“You don’t have to pay rent anymore. You will have your own home now,” Luna sadly joked to her late friend, a transgender woman slain in front of Cuevas in 2016.
Buenrostro will be the first woman to be moved to a mausoleum a short distance away entirely dedicated to transgender women that was inaugurated on Thursday. Many of the dead transgender women were victims of hate crimes.
Built in Iztapalapa, the most populous borough of Mexico’s capital, the burial site is the first one of its kind in the country. In some cases, no relatives claimed their bodies. Some died of natural causes, while others suffered violent deaths. Cuevas wanted them all to have a dignified resting place.
“Thank you Paola, because in your name we were able to reach an important milestone for the trans community,” Cuevas told a cheering crowd during the official inauguration.
Mexico currently has the world’s second highest toll after Brazil for the killings of transgender people, with 25 transgender women slain from January to July 2023, according to the LGBTQ rights group Letra S.
From 2017 to July 2023, at least 586 murders of LGBTQ people were recorded by the group. More than 58% were transgender women.
Cuevas became an activist in 2016, when her friend Buenrostro, a fellow transgender sex worker got into a client’s car and was fatally shot multiple times.
Cuevas managed to grab the man and held him until police arrived, but despite multiple witnesses to the killing and a video that Cuevas took with her phone, the man was released from custody a few days later.
She soon quit sex work and founded the organization Casa de Muñecas to campaign for protections for transgender women. The organization founded the mausoleum.
The burial site will have space for 149 women, including Buenrostro and Indigenous transgender rights activist Guadalupe “Lupilla” Xiu, who died alone on Sept. 9 after having fled her native Oaxaca and suffered torture and kidnapping.
Of the 60 transgender women who Cuevas has accompanied after their deaths, 48 have already been handed over to their families. Twelve other bodies will soon be exhumed from graves with the help of the capital’s Attorney General’s Office and moved to the mausoleum.
“Today, after a long time, I feel this is an act of reparation,” said Cuevas.