Forced to flee her home, trans activist calls for tolerance
Salvadoran asylum seeker is starting a new life on her own terms in Guatemala.
An LGBTI refugee who fled violence and discrimination in Honduras paints the nails of a friend at a migrant shelter in Tenosique, Mexico.
© UNHCR/Markel Redondo
As a transgender teenager in San Salvador, Carolina* was shunned by family and threatened by street gangs. Now in Guatemala, she is fighting for human rights and helping others to find their voice.
“I was 14 or 15 the last time my mother threw me out of the house,” Carolina remembers. “She was telling me ‘Get out of here!’ and that I couldn’t stay. At that moment I didn’t say a thing – I grabbed my bag and walked out.”
Amid widespread insecurity in the north of Central America, hundreds of thousands have fled, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people among them – collectively known as LGBTI - are particularly vulnerable.
According to a study by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, almost 90 per cent of the LGBTI asylum seekers and refugees from Central America it spoke to in 2016 said they had suffered sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin.
A small but growing number of people are seeking refuge in Guatemala. By the end of 2017, the country was hosting 370 refugees, and 150 others had requested asylum that year.
"All of us are human beings. We deserve to be treated with the same respect.”
As a trans woman, Carolina still faces risks every day in the streets of the capital, Guatemala City, but the country has also given her a newfound freedom. The Salvadoran is now applying for asylum and creating a new life, on her own terms.
“I consider myself a feminist trans woman, in the sense that I take action every day to live for myself, for others like me and for all women.”
On May 17, UNHCR is marking International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, or IDAHOT, on the theme of Alliances for Solidarity. The agency is committed to protecting the rights of LGBTI refugees and asylum-seekers, and is this year highlighting the importance of networks and coalitions to support those uprooted from their homes.
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“When people flee their homes and communities, their support networks become fragile and broken, and the protection risks they face often become more acute,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in a video address.
He stressed that LGBTI refugees and internally displaced people, frequently more than others, are confronted with this challenge, even in countries of asylum.
“Finding and developing adequate support networks is therefore crucial to the realization of their rights and enabling them to pursue their aspirations in the countries and communities in which they seek protection,” he added.
The message chimes with hopes expressed by Carolina as she finds her feet in exile.
“I would like to see Guatemala and, dare I say, other states in Central America become more inclusive,” she says. “I believe that people, all of us, are human beings. We deserve to be treated with the same respect and without discrimination.”
* Name changed for protection reasons