Metro Vancouver queer communities are mourning the loss of one of their most vibrant and devoted members.
On September 29, just after 10 p.m., the New Westminster Police Department received a call regarding a stabbing victim in the 500 block of 3rd Avenue, who was pronounced dead at 5:44 a.m. at a hospital on September 30.
On October 4, police identified the victim as 26-year-old January Marie Lapuz.
Lapuz hailed from Santiago, Isabela, in the Philippines, and spoke English, Tagalog, and Chinese.
She was actively involved with the organization Sher Vancouver, a social and support group created for queer South Asians, but open to all ethnicities. Sher Vancouver founder Alex Sangha explained by phone that Lapuz was befriended by Sher Vancouver's current moderator Ash Brar, a South Asian born in the Philippines who was able to converse with Lapuz in Tagalog.
"In many ways, her being involved with Sher opened it up to many more people," Sangha said. He noted that Lapuz became the first transgender person to have an executive position with the organization.
Sangha said that as Sher's social coordinator, Lapuz hosted all of their events. She also helped out with fundraisers, and performed at Bollywood nights and on their Pride parade float.
"She's extremely lively. If there's a scale of extroverts, she is at the very top of the scale," Sher Vancouver social coordinator Parveen Khtaria said. "Her personality is pleasantly over the top."
Lapuz also devoted herself to helping others.
"There's a lot of other transgender Filipinos in the community," Khtaria said. "And when they came to Canada, they didn't know about all of these programs and services that are available to transgender individuals. And she was the one who initially helped them transition. So that was informing them about the doctors that were available, where they could get hormones, support groups, even teaching them how to do their makeup as a woman."
Sangha said that Lapuz also assisted with the development and training for Sher Vancouver's Dosti Project (dosti means friendship in several South Asian languages). The antibullying initiative has addressed bullying, racism, and homophobia since 2009 through high school presentations (with an emphasis on a South Asian perspective).
"She was like the mother of the group," Sangha said. "She had so much going against her, and she got through it with her strength. She was very spiritual, very generous, very kind. And she got through her challenges because she believed in God, and she had the support of the group, and her friends, and the people around her."
Sangha said that she had taken some makeup artistry courses and had been considering going back to school.
Both Sangha and Khtaria said that Lapuz was a great dancer and singer who loved Beyoncé and karaoke. Khtaria added that Lapuz would even belt out Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)" on the SkyTrain.
"Heaven has their new Beyoncé. She's in a safe place, and no one can hurt her anymore," Sangha said.
Sangha called for a need to address safety issues for women and transgender people.
"To me, it doesn't matter what choices people make in their life or where they choose to work. Women, and all people—especially transgender people and people who are vulnerable—they need to be safe. I think it's a responsibility of the individual, as well as the community and society to provide that safety. You can't just ignore them."
The police are searching for a motive and suspect. They are seeking the public's assistance in identifying a male who witnesses saw running from the scene of the crime. He is described as an Asian male in his mid-20s, approximately 5'5" tall, has short black hair and a muscular build, and was wearing a black muscle shirt and grey shorts.
Anyone with information can call the tipline at 1-877-551-4448 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the police department news release, the Integrated Homicide Investigation Team initially identified Lapuz as John Carlo Embo Lapuz, who legally changed names to January Marie Lapuz in 2008. Although the news release referred to Lapuz using male pronouns, Sangha and Khtaria said that Lapuz identified as female. (A call from the Georgia Straight to the IHIT media relations representative had not been returned by the time of this posting.)
A memorial was held for her in North Vancouver today (October 5). Sangha and Khtaria said that a celebration of life will be held for her on a future date still to be determined.