Latina Trans Woman Maria Jose Rivera Rivera, 22, Killed in Houston

Maria Jose Rivera Rivera via HRC

Maria Jose Rivera Rivera was a 22-year-old Latina trans woman from El Salvador. Her death was first reported in late January, but unconfirmed by law enforcement investigators until recently.

Maria Jose was killed in what’s described as a murder-suicide by an intimate partner on January 21, 2023 in Houston. Based on early reporting, her death was discovered on January 21, but she may have been dead for as long as three days.

Her body was discovered after neighbors reported an unfamiliar smell and uncollected mail outside the apartment, according to NBC affiliate KPRC. Police told reporters that when they arrived for a wellness check, they found her and her partner dead in an apparent murder-suicide. Their cause of death was not publicly released. h/t Them.

Cristian Sanchez, Supervising Attorney at RAICES Texas and Maria Jose’s immigration lawyer, told HRC that all signs point to her murder being committed by an intimate partner.

“Maria Jose was a joy to work with. I always looked forward to speaking with her. She was lively, funny, and dynamic. My heart hurts from her loss. Transgender people who are immigrants suffer two levels of oppression and marginalization from society. This makes them especially vulnerable to harm. The transgender immigrant community deserves respect and safety.”

I have not been able to find many personal details about Maria Jose. At age 22, surely she had favorites in music, art, tv, and more. Did she like fashion, makeup, and hairstyling – that’s a guess from the selfie provided? Was she a sports fan? Did she have relationships with her family? A best friend? I want to remember her as more than the circumstances of her murder. At age 22, surely she was on social media somewhere.

Maria Jose is the sixth trans or gender nonconforming person whose violent death has been reported in 2023. She is the fifth trans woman, the fourth trans woman of color, the fifth trans person of color, and the third immigrant trans person reported killed so far. She is the third Latinx and second Latina.

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Five of these six known victims were under 30. The youngest was 21. Maria Jose was 22. In the past twelve months, four trans folx have been killed in Houston – Paloma Vazquez, Za’Niyah Williams, Martina Caldera, and Marisela Castro.

While there are not many details, it has been consistently reported that Maria Jose was the victim of the other person, presumably a male and perhaps an intimate or former intimate partner. But you type ‘murder suicide Houston’ into Google and be as appalled as I am by the number of posts that come up on multiple – many – such incidents in the first two months of 2023 alone. In just Houston. It will fall to the activists and Maria Jose’s friends to shine more light on the details of her life.

And the reporting has not always been accurate when it comes to Maria Jose’s gender identity. And the comments have been worse. The lack of details leads to horrific speculation of the ‘trans panic’ response by the murderer. Beware, you who Google.

May we never become immune to the outrage that someone took the life of a 22-year-old young woman for any reason.

Rest in power, Maria Jose. You deserved many more years to pursue your dreams and aspirations. Thank you for bringing liveliness and humor to our world, for pursuing your immigration dreams, for being your very best self. I am so sorry we did not create a safer world for you.

May your memory be a revolution.

This is our list of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming neighbors who have been victims of the campaign of terror in 2023. Please do not copy, modify, or share this list without attribution.  

  1. Jasmine ‘Star’ Mack – District of Columbia, January 7, 2023. Age 36.
  2. KC Johnson – Wilmington, North Carolina, January 13, 2023. Age 27.
  3. Tortuguita – Weelaunee Forest, Georgia, January 18, 2023. Age 26.
  4. Unique Banks – Chicago, Illinois, January 23, 2023. Age 21.
  5. Zachee Imanitwitaho – Louisville, Kentucky, February 3, 2023. Age 26.
  6. Maria Jose Rivera Rivera – Houston, Texas, January 21, 2023. Age 22.

In 2022, we reported on the violent deaths of 40 trans and nonbinary neighbors in the United States. There were more, I know because I am still pursuing some of those cases. We are also updating as new reports come in dating back to 2022.

  1. Destin Howard – Macon, Georgia, December 9, 2022. Age 23.
Trans deaths


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