By Oscar Lopez
MEXICO CITY, Aug 8 (Openly) - In a historic first for the conservative South American country, a court in Paraguay on Friday will convene for a murder trial in the death of a trans woman who was stabbed to death two years ago, according to local rights activists.
The case, to be heard in the city of Luque on the outskirts of the capital Asuncion, involves the 2017 murder of Romina Vargas, a 28-year-old trans woman.
LGBT+ activists say the trial could set an important precedent given frequent violence against trans people in the small Latin American country which has struggled with LGBT+ rights issues.
"For us it's a historic moment, the fact that it's reached this point, that it's gotten to a public, oral trial," said Mariana Sepulveda, an activist with trans organization Panambi.
"Never before ... has the investigation of a murder or a hate crime (against a trans person) been resolved," in Paraguay, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
A predominantly Roman Catholic nation of some seven million, Paraguay has seen at least 60 trans people murdered over the last three decades, according to Panambi.
And while neighboring countries like Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil have recently made strides in legal recognition for LGBT+ rights, Paraguay has often moved in the other direction.
In March Paraguay banned sex education courses for teachers, while its Senate declared itself "pro-life and pro-family," opening its session with a prayer in the usually secular state.
Yren Rotela, a trans activist and friend of Vargas, said the recent conservative shift has encouraged a culture in which attacks on trans people are deemed acceptable.
"This powerful conservative current that says we're a danger to the traditional family, that discourse always brings some kind of violence," she said.
Rotela recounted her own experience just days before Vargas was killed, when she said she was attacked as she sat with friends in San Lorenzo, by the very same man accused of Vargas's murder.
"He threatened me with a knife," she said, believing it was the same one the man allegedly used to kill Romina Vargas. Her assailant stabbed two more friends the following week, before Vargas was murdered on Oct. 15, Rotela said.
"He kept saying that he wanted to kill everyone, that he was doing it to kill all (trans) people because he hated these kinds of people."
While Rotela and other activists blame Paraguay's "macho culture" for the violence, many say the fact that so few such crimes are prosecuted makes matters worse.
"It's as if a message is being transmitted that killing a trans person is normal and has no consequences," Sepulveda said.
If the trial brings a conviction, rights campaigners hope that will send a message to other would-be attackers of LGBT+ people.
"It will set an important precedent," Rotela said. "Nobody has the right to take away your life."
(Reporting by Oscar Lopez. Editing by Chris Michaud.)
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