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Trans Harvard student’s family blamed police for death. Their lawyer now admits it was suicide


Family’s ‘thesis’ now is that ‘degrading treatment’ led to his suicide

A year after the family of a transgender Harvard student alleged her death in Indonesia was related to his sexual identity and police misconduct, the family’s lawyer now admits she committed suicide.

The case of Rodrigo Ventocilla (pictured, left) was covered in some 20 articles and photo spreads by the Harvard student paper The Crimson, which highlighted her sexuality and the family’s accusations. Ventocilla is a female who presented herself as a male.

In August of 2022, The Crimson reported that Ventocilla, “a transgender man and a prominent trans rights activist” from Peru, had died while in police custody in Bali. She had been on her honeymoon with her spouse (pictured, right).

Ventocilla’s family said her arrest was an “act of racial discrimination and transphobia” by the police, and then she was “deprived of basic rights” and “subjected to police violence.”

Dean Douglas Elmendorf of Harvard’s Kennedy School had said in a statement that “Rodrigo’s family raises very serious questions that deserve clear and accurate answers.”

Indeed, the school’s Institute of Politics shortly thereafter honored Ventocilla and held a discussion on the “cultural and political backlash to the global transgender rights movement.”

The Crimson devoted an editorial to Ventocilla, saying of her family’s accusations “we see scant reason to doubt their assessment.” It noted “We believe that it is indeed fairly likely that Rodrigo’s activism and identity contributed to his premature death.”

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In addition, a 100-person rally was held outside the Peruvian consulate in Boston after Ventocilla’s death in conjunction with other vigils in Peru, Australia, and Indonesia. One attendee said she “just want[ed] everyone to know about Rodrigo and to know what was done to him and to demand justice for what was done to him.”

Another said “Getting the truth out there is important to know and be able to bear witness to what happened to him, and how it should not be happening in this world.”

It appears the truth of the matter is now out — and it’s just what Bali police had said all along.

Ventocilla family lawyer Julio Arbizu confirmed last week that the Harvard student and her spouse had purposely overdosed on a prescription drug (the spouse survived). Ventocilla also had left a suicide note, but Arbizu did not elaborate on the note’s contents (which have yet to be made public).

Nevetheless, Arbizu said the family has “the thesis” that “degrading treatment” at the hands of police led to Ventocilla’s suicide. The family continues to maintain she was arrested due to “racism and transphobia,” and that she was beaten while in custody.

Editor’s note: The pronouns in the headline and article have been corrected to reflect Ventocilla’s actual gender.

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IMAGE: The Crimson/Twitter

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Dave has been writing about education, politics, and entertainment for over 20 years, including a stint at the popular media bias site Newsbusters. He is a retired educator with over 25 years of service and is a member of the National Association of Scholars. Dave holds undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Delaware.