Meet the newscaster in drag making LGBTQ+ history in Mexican television

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Counting down “four, three, two, one.”

Barraza opens his program with a characteristic flourish, standing on a stage surrounded by three hefty broadcast cameras and earpiece-donning producers counting down “four, three, two, one.”

Today, wrapped in a puffy blue-and-purple ball gown, Barraza spins around, looks into the camera with his chin tilted upward and says: “Welcome to La Verdrag, the program where minorities turn into a majority.”

Running 40 minutes in length, Barraza’s show cycles through the day’s biggest headlines – gender in Mexico’s 2024 elections, human rights in a historic migration to the US, and violence against queer populations. He pivots the rest of the program to deeply reported stories and interviews that each pull back a different layer of the world of queerness in Mexico.

One week, it’s a deep dive on transgender youth in Mexico, the next it’s an interview with Ociel Baena, the first openly nonbinary person in Latin America to hold a judicial position. One of most recognizable LGBTQ+ figures in the country, Baena smashed through barrier after barrier, becoming emblematic of the fight for visibility long championed by drag queens of the past.

“This hate speech against me continues to grow and grow. I’ve seen it on social media. What’s most regrettable are the death threats I’ve been receiving recently,” Baena said. “They’re ingredients that create a breeding ground for homicides.”

Donning a blazer, silver pumps shrouded by a white skirt and their signature rainbow fan, it would be the last TV interview the magistrate would ever give. Just weeks later, Barraza would be reminded that breaking out of that box in a place like Mexico can come with deadly consequences.

Baena was found dead next to their partner in their home in the conservative central Mexican state of Aguascalientes. What appeared to be nearly two dozen razor cuts slashed across their body, haunting Barraza and many queer people in Mexico.

Just hours after Baena’s body was found, local prosecutors quickly described the deaths as a murder-suicide, a move often made by authorities to dub a case a crime of passion and quickly shelve cases in a country where nearly 99% of crimes go unsolved.

Local prosecutors said it appeared that Baena’s partner had killed the magistrate then killed himself, a theory quickly rejected by other Mexican officials and Mexico’s LGBTQ+ community, which said it was just another attempt by authorities to brush aside the violence against them.

Activists continue to demand a deeper investigation, taking into account the mounting death threats against Baena and historical violence against LGBTQ+ populations. In the first month of 2024, authorities and rights groups registered at least three more transgender people killed.

Hate comments

Gathered with a group of friends in his Mexico City apartment after watching the first broadcast of “La Verdrag,” Barraza flicks through rows of hate comments flooding Canal Once’s social media, something that would only continue to grow with each broadcast.

“‘God prohibits perversion, only Satan is happy with the rotting of this world. What a disgusting creep,’” Barraza reads with a roar of laughter, tossing out jokes with his characteristic ease.

Behind it is a blanket of fear, a reminder of the weight of what he’s undertaking.

In addition to being one of the deadliest places to practice journalism in the world, Mexico has some of the highest rates of violence against LGBTQ+ communities in Latin America, a region where hate crimes and gender-based violence already run high.

“I wouldn’t be the first journalist to be killed and I wouldn’t be the last,” he said. “My biggest fear is that what I’m doing is going to hurt other people, my partner, my mom, my brother.”

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