Transgender Reality is Far From The Glamous Spotlight

Posted by on Aug 12, 2015 in Survivor Stories


When the Olympian and reality TV star formerly known as Bruce Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in June under the new identity of Caitlyn, it may have seemed that the world was opening the door toward a greater public acceptance and understanding of what it means to be transgender. However, for many transgender people, particularly those in countries with conservative social cultures, the reality of their experiences is far from the glamour of an Annie Leibovitz photo shoot.

Los Angeles has the largest population of asylum seekers and refugees in the United States, including a large community of transgender individuals that have faced multiple layers of discrimination and human rights abuse before reaching California. PTV’s transgender clients typically come from Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, and Mexico and have survived kidnappings, rapes, and illegal detainment, beatings, and death threats.

Here is just a small group:

 Gabi was illegally detained by police 25 times in a single year in an effort to humiliate her.

 Jazmin’s father tried to kill her as a child because he was embarrassed when she tried to express her true gender identity through feminine actions like putting a ribbon in her hair.

 Mia experienced the murder of several transgender friends before death threats started coming in on her work phone.

 Sara was raped by a teacher and told that no one would believe a little fag if she told. She soon dropped out of school because of the humiliation and torment she experienced, including taunting and beating by her peers. She couldn’t get a job in her hometown.

 Maria was raped by gang members. She woke up the next day to find her name and address in the local newspaper under the headline “Gang Members Rape a  Homosexual.”

Manuela was routinely arrested by the police and was made to perform oral sex in order to be released.

As a result of stigma and violence that our transgender clients face, many suffer from PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder. In response to years of discrimination and abuse, they learn to isolate themselves from society, and often attempt suicide.

Family, community, and police have turned against them, leaving them with no choice but to leave their country to avoid further persecution. As refugees, many struggle to live above the poverty line, lacking basic needs like food and stable shelter. Some have to resort to the black market for hormone therapy and end up disfigured and sick as a result of unsafe treatments. They have the highest unemployment rate of any group, with estimates at 40% in the United States.

Many clients coming from Latin America surrender themselves at the border, hoping to find help, but instead face many months in U.S. detention centers, which take in up to 75 transgender people each day. In these centers they may face transphobic physical and sexual abuse, as they are not housed in their identified gender’s unit, only in Santa Ana CA, are transgender segregated. In addition, although transgender women make up only .2% of detained immigrants, they are the victim in 20% of confirmed cases of sexual abuse in immigration detention centers.

Last year, PTV assisted 13 transgender men and women- providing counseling, assistance with food and housing, life-coaching, and through our partnership with the St. Johns Transgender Health Program, access to quality health care, regardless of income.

Our transgender population is one of the most vulnerable of all our clients at PTV. We applaud Caitlyn Jenner and other high profile transgender spokespeople for bringing a media spotlight to the struggles, hardships and tragic human rights abuse that Trans people live with around the world. Persecution, like torture, is used to make people feel powerless, voiceless and broken.  PTV works to give transgender survivors back their dignity, confidence, and courage to take pride in being a whole person.