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These Activists Are Creating Spaces And Opportunities For Trans Latinxs In Los Angeles

California, home to an estimated 220,000 transgender individuals, has a number of organizations, support groups and resources that are directly improving the lives of trans folks in The Golden State. And in Los Angeles, where about half of the city’s population identifies as Latino, there are fierce activists working directly with trans immigrant and Latinx communities.

Here, advocates tell us what it’s like fighting for justice, freedom and joy for trans people of color in Los Angeles.

Reporting for this story was done by Walter Thompson-Hernandez.

Bamby Salcedo, 48, Trans Mexican Woman, Los Angeles

(Photo Credit: Walter Thompson-Hernandez)

I am very lucky and privileged to lead the TransLatin@ Coalition, a national organization based in Los Angeles that has been doing amazing work since 2009. We are particularly focused on changing the structures that continue to marginalize our community. We have long focused on policy and mobilizing our community, but in 2015, we decided to also move into service provision. So we have a center for violence prevention and transgender wellness that acts as a multipurpose space to address the needs and issues of trans people, including a drop-in center where people can come to be, watch TV, eat lunch, take clothes and participate in workforce development and re-entry development programs. We are the very first trans-led organization here in Los Angeles providing services for trans and gender non-conforming Latinx people, and we are replicating the model we have here in different places, including the DMV area, Florida, Texas, New York, Minnesota, Georgia, Arizona, Chicago and Washington state. While there were other national organizations that were trans-led when we started, we noticed that they were not necessarily including the needs and issues of trans Latinas who were immigrants. We wanted to make sure we had a voice, and the only way we thought we could do that was through forming this coalition. It’s hard work. We have limited resources and there remains an invisible marginalization for trans people in the LGBTQ sphere, especially trans people of color, but it’s necessary and worth it. The most fulfilling part of this work really is seeing once-shattered souls blossom, watching gloomy eyes begin to shine and seeing your community thrive.

Ezak Perez, 39, Gender Non-Conforming Trans Latinx, Los Angeles

(Photo Credit: Walter Thompson-Hernandez)

I am the director of programs at Gender Justice LA, a trans rights organization that’s been around for about 15 years. We were, to my knowledge, the first organization in the nonprofit setting doing work for the trans community and bringing in trans folks to do that work in this area. A lot of what we do right now is really grassroots, so our membership really drives the work. We do work at different levels: policy, leadership development and empowerment. One of the things that we do here is make sure that trans and gender non-conforming people aren’t in isolation, because we know that when you’re connected to resources and other trans and gender non-conforming people, you’re able to get the resources that you need or at least have someone to connect with and call. I’ve played many different roles here. Since I started seven years ago, I’ve done outreach and was even a campaigns director. All of this work is crucial to our survival in this current political climate. We are being discriminated against and violently attacked, especially trans women of color, and Black trans women in particular. Someone once said it’s an epidemic, and I think that’s true. At a time like this, there’s a lot of ways that we need to be combatting transphobia, and a lot of that is our internalized stuff, working with each other and finding ways to get along and work toward changing policies to get us to the point where we don’t have to be in survival mode all the time. In Latino communities in particular we need to be able to have conversations around gender-based bias and binary language, gender discrimination and the roles that we put out on each other. I think that’s a big deal and a big part of culture and community.

Jennicet Guitierrez, 31, Trans Mexican Woman, Los Angeles

(Photo Credit: Walter Thompson-Hernandez)

I am a community organizer with Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, where we are building a home for trans and queer and undocumented people. We’re still young as an organization, but we do believe that when we center people at the margins, we can transform laws and spaces. So we want to provide tools for people to get involved in the movement while continuing to organize. Doing so in this hostile political climate is key. It’s important for our communities to mobilize and take a stand on divisive issues that impact so many of us. The trans community has been at the forefront of the struggle for justice for a very long time. Now the trans community is getting more attention, but our voices are still silenced, making it difficult and challenging, but we still push harder. We are in this fight for the long-term. When we talk about transphobia, you have to start at home. Having these conversations with our families is a big step toward finding yourself, finding your voice and connecting with people in similar situations to mobilize to the point where you can impact legislation. Policy is essential for trans liberation, but we have to be careful right now with this current administration, which has been unleashing a lot of hate and attacks on us. We can’t settle for any legislation if it’s only going to benefit a small group of people and punish the rest. Since Trump took office, there has been a massive movement of people, and that gives me hope. That’s why organizing is essential, and whether or not he does the things he wants to do, we have to focus on organizing and the biggest tools that we can provide for future generations. Eventually, I do believe that we will win and we will move in a direction where people are treated fairly, with humanity and dignity. The future is challenging because trans, Black, indigenous, LGTB and all these different communities are under attack, but we have to stand shoulder to shoulder so we can build a stronger resistance.

Andy Gonzalez, 27, Nonbinary Trans Mexican, South Central

(Photo Credit: Walter Thompson-Hernandez)

Growing up and being queer and trans has been difficult. I lived in Mexico — Tijuana and Guadalajara — with my sisters and mom, but we moved to South Central when I was 16. I’m proud of who I am and where I come from, but I’m also aware of the violence and machismo that exists there. We moved here because of all that. But it’s not ideal here, either. The school system fails us. There’s no resources for queer and trans youth. That’s why I’m the Southern California food organizer with the Gender and Sexuality Alliance (GSA). I work in South Central schools, including the one I attended. It’s the first job that I can be Andy and that I’m open about who I am, where I’m able to use my pronouns, “they” and “them.” Going back to my community has been healing and an amazing journey because the youth are experiencing things that I experienced in school and in my community. I’m a comrade to the youth. So seeing their resilience and resistance, it’s amazing. They’re resisting, you know, to push forward toward gender and racial justice. The youth inspire me and it’s been healing. As a trans nonbinary person, it’s been about healing my trauma and her, the woman that society automatically told me I was, as well as connecting with my mom and sisters and healing things that we’ve gone through intergenerationally in our families. I think our liberation is not going to come from the state and government. They never wanted us to be free. We could see that in the political climate right now. They are trying to invalidate our struggle. We need to let our our community speak our truth. So we continue and never stop.

Read: A Trans Latina Actress Made Academy Awards History This Year

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A Transgender Latina Who Was Deported From The US Was Murdered In El Salvador

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A Transgender Latina Who Was Deported From The US Was Murdered In El Salvador

A transgender woman who was deported from the US after seeking refuge from anti-LGBTQ violence in her homeland was murdered following her return to El Salvador, the Washington Blade reports.

When the woman, who was known as Camila, went missing, the Asociación Aspidh Arcoiris Trans, a trans advocacy group in the Central American country, started a search and discovered that she had been admitted to a hospital in San Salvador, the nation’s capital, on Jan. 31. She passed away on Feb. 3.

Authorities are still unsure what happened during the attack, but she was found outside the capital and transported to Rosales National Hospital with “multiple injuries.”

Camila entered the US on one of the migrant caravans last year after receiving threats because of her gender identity. According to Salvadoran activists, US officials did not believe her life was in danger and deported her back to her home country four-to-five months before her death.

“She migrated to the US because of threats that she had received, but she was deported because they didn’t believe her,” Aislinn Odaly, an independent LGBTI rights advocate, told the publication.

Camila is the second trans woman who was murdered in El Salvador this month. On Feb. 8, a woman named Lolita was killed with a machete in Sonsonate, but there are little more details surrounding her death.

According to the Washington Blade, neither El Salvador’s National Civil Police nor the country’s attorney general has classified the murders as hate crimes, particularly because Lolita and Camila died in public hospitals where reports didn’t identify them as victims of violence.

“We want justice and that these cases are investigated and the reformed penal code procedures to be applied when those who are responsible are found,” Alfaro told the Blade, alluding to a 2015 amendment to El Salvador’s legal code that enhances penalties for hate crimes based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

“Although we have begun the year badly, we hope these crimes establish precedents for there to also be a positive legal framework that regulates the situation of trans people, especially the situation of violence and insecurity,” she continued.

Read: In Chile, This School For Transgender Students Allows Kids To Learn In A Safe And Affirming Environment

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In Chile, This School For Transgender Students Allows Kids To Learn In A Safe And Affirming Environment

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In Chile, This School For Transgender Students Allows Kids To Learn In A Safe And Affirming Environment

Bullying and discrimination can make school feel impossible for transgender students. In Chile, many queer youth stop attending class to avoid intimidation, often falling behind or even dropping out. Amaranta Gomez School, an institution for transgender students in Santiago, Chile, is trying to change that.

Founded by the Selenna Foundation, an organization in the South American country protecting trans rights, in 2017, the school offers youth between the ages of six and 17 courses on math, science, history and English as well as workshops on art and photography. About 22 students attend the school, with an additional six expected to join soon. They are assigned to one of two classrooms based on their age.

“I’m happy here because there are many other kids just like me,” Alexis, a 6-year-old student who was bullied at his previous school, told the Associated Press.

A 2016 report by UNESCO said that in Latin America, school violence against students based on sexual orientation or gender identity harms “the development of the affected people, school coexistence, academic performance and, consequently, their permanence in school.”

Teachers at Amaranta Gomez, which was named after muxe activist and anthropologist Amanranta Gónez Regalado, work pro bono. In its first year, all school expenses were paid the Selenna Foundation’s president Evelyn Silva’s and the institution’s coordinator Ximena Maturana’s personal savings.

Starting in March, families will have to pay about $7 a month for their child to attend.

“We try to reduce the costs to the minimum (for families) so that they don’t say that (kids) are not attending because they don’t have pencils, and it becomes a reason to leave school,” Silva said.

Even with limited funds, the foundation has created a summer school program that offers dance and additional workshops to about 20 children, including some who do not attend Amaranta Gomez.

The school, the first of its kind in Latin America, is creating a safe space where children can learn, feel affirmed and have community.

“I feel free and happy here,” said Felipe, 15. “The environment is very good. Everyone who arrives is simply accepted.”

Read: Latinx Kindergarten Teacher Pens Bilingual Children’s Book To Teach Youth About Gender-Neutral Pronouns

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