Monday, September 29, 2008
Transgender Girl's Looks Sparked School Fight
"Every day, I was afraid for my sister. The world, the way it is, most people wouldn't accept who she was."
By Monte Whaley
The Denver Post
BRIGHTON — Angie Zapata's life was becoming more complicated and dangerous by the day.
As she neared her 19th birthday, she needed to shave daily to keep up appearances. Her Adam's apple was growing larger, an emerging tip-off that Angie was not exactly whom she claimed to be.
She was living in Greeley away from her protective older sister, Monica, and other family members for the first time. The striking, 6-foot-tall Latina began running with a bad crowd that sold drugs.
Angie was restless. She needed money for cosmetology school and for counseling to prepare her for hormone treatments so her breasts would develop.
"Every day, I was afraid for my sister," said Monica Zapata. "The world, the way it is, most people wouldn't accept who she was."
Born Justin Zapata, Angie wanted to live and love as a transgender female.
Her quest for a normal life on her terms ended in July, when she was beaten to death in her one-bedroom, $300-a-month apartment.
Her alleged assailant, 31-year-old Allen Andrade of Thornton, met Angie on a dating website. He grew suspicious while looking at photographs of Angie in her apartment, according to Greeley police. He confronted her about her sexual status; she allegedly said: "I'm all woman." Then he grabbed her crotch and felt a penis, police said.
Enraged, he first hit Angie with his fists. Then he used a fire extinguisher, hitting her up to five times, prosecutors said.
He covered her body with a blanket and left the apartment, taking a credit card belonging to Monica Zapata as well as Monica's 2003 PT Cruiser.
Andrade faces first-degree murder and felony hate-crime charges, among others. In recorded conversations made public at Andrade's preliminary hearing this month, he described the killing in stark terms. He said he "snapped" when he learned of Angie's biological status and told his girlfriend, "What's done is done."
Andrade also told police "gay things need to die" and that he "killed it."
There were plenty of men who found Angie attractive. Her skin was flawless and her hair, dark and flowing.
"Even without makeup, she looked like a girl, a gorgeous girl," said another sister, Stephanie Zapata.
Angie spent hours primping, even before she reported to work as a shift manager at a local fast-food restaurant.
When she went out, she wore low-cut dresses with high skirts and size-10 pumps. "She was conceited about her looks; she always wanted to look good," Stephanie said.
Her heart could be broken easily. She recently met a man she liked, but he wouldn't commit because of her transgender status.
"She said she only wanted him to take her out and show her off, but he said if people found out about them, they would hurt them," Monica said. "She said to me, 'I'm never going to be happy.' "
Angie clung to her family, especially her nieces and nephews. She had a great fondness for 2-year-old Diego, her godson.
"She would buy them name-brand clothing and definitely Nike shoes. Even if she had a few dollars left, she would spend it on them," said her friend and transgender mentor, Kitty DeLeon.
At age 5 or 6, Angie showed signs that she was uncomfortable in her masculine skin. She draped towels over her head to look more like a girl, and she quickly dropped out of sports such as soccer and baseball in favor of fixing her sisters' hair and dabbling in makeup.
"When (our mom) cut her hair, she cried and cried because she wanted it to grow long," Monica said.
Angie said she was molested as a child by an older relative, added Monica, and she used that to justify her feelings.
"She said that if she could attract men like that, maybe she was meant to be a woman," Monica said.
To please her mother, Angie dressed as a boy. Once at her elementary school, she would change into girls clothing and wear makeup.
She was taunted for her looks, and it led to altercations.
"She fought two boys once and beat them up and said, 'See, that's what it feels like to be beaten up by a fag,' " Monica said.
Angie's death was part of a rash of at least 13 violent hate crimes committed across the country in June and July.
All were aimed at gays, lesbians and transgender individuals, said Avy Skolnik, coordinator of national and statewide programs for the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs.
The incidents — including Angie's death — fall on the heels of the Feb. 12 shooting of 15-year-old Lawrence "Larry" Fobes King at a junior high school in Oxnard, Calif. King allegedly was targeted because he began showing up to school wearing women's accessories and clothing, high heels and makeup.
King allegedly was shot twice in the head by a fellow student, 14-year-old Brandon McInerney.
"When someone finds out that someone else is transgender, that does not justify an assault, certainly not murder," Skolnik said.
But Andrade's defense attorney sees it in a slightly different way. Annette Kundelius argued in her client's preliminary hearing that Angie deceived Andrade into thinking she was biologically a female.
When he discovered the truth, he reacted violently but without premeditation, said Kundelius, who asked the presiding judge to lower the charge to second-degree murder.
"At best, this is a case about passion," Kundelius said. "When she smiled at him, that was a highly provoking act."
Kundelius employed a classic defense-attorney tactic known as "trans-shock," Skolnik said. "It's simply used by lawyers to play off the bias of jurors."
Prosecutor Robb Miller said Andrade could have reacted like most people in the same situation — admit an embarrassing mistake and move on. "He could have lived with it," Miller said, "but something inside him wouldn't let him."
Weld County District Judge Marcelo Kopcow agreed, refusing to lower the first-degree murder charge and erase the felony bias charge. The evidence, Kopcow said, clearly showed Andrade's rage toward Angie as well as gays.
It was at age 15 that Angie officially came out as a transgender female. About then, she also met DeLeon, a transgender female who also grew up in Fort Lupton.
DeLeon, now in her 30s, sensed an inner strength in Angie that needed to be nurtured. "I wanted her to live a normal life and not a sheltered life," DeLeon said. "I told her, 'You know, Angie, there will always be people who will tell you you are evil and wrong. But we can't let people tell us who we are.' "
Later, as Angie's social life flourished, friends said a cellphone seemed glued to her ear.
She would talk to boys but never go out with them until they had been vetted by her sisters. She also disclosed her status to every suitor, family said. Some of her prospective dates went away angry, but others were happy to stay around, Monica said.
"She didn't have to lie about who she was," Monica said. "Plenty of guys liked her."
But school became tougher for her with conflicts and fights. "She always had to protect herself at school, and it became too much of a hassle for her," Monica said. "I think that became her excuse to quit."
She dropped out of Fort Lupton High School in about her junior year and went to work full time, babysitting Monica's children for $600 a month.
"She started hanging out with some bad people, people who weren't good for her," said Monica.
What's left of Angie's life — her dresses and shoes and other mementos — is displayed in a basement room at Monica's home in Brighton.
"She loved people, and she loved going out and looking good," Monica said. "That was important to her."
Monte Whaley: 720-929-0907 or firstname.lastname@example.org