Bolivia’s transgender community pays high price for affirming sexual identity

By Gabriel Romano

El Alto, Bolivia, Jun 25 (EFE).- The struggle that members of Bolivia’s LGBT community face in affirming their sexual identity can result in discrimination, marginalization and even violent death.

Those risks are particularly high for transgender women, who frequently are ostracized by their families and forced to leave behind their places of origin.

Two murders of transgender women – Litzy in 2018 and Gabriela in 2020 – in the western highland city of El Alto have driven home the urgency of the problem, considering both had migrated from other parts of Bolivia in hopes of encountering less discrimination.

In neither of those cases – two of the roughly 30 homicides the Organization of Transsexuals, Transvestites, and Transgender Females of Bolivia (Otraf) has registered over the past decade – have the perpetrators been brought to justice.

“It started when we were children. We already knew we were gay … It was a secret between her and me, and as time went by it became more noticeable,” Davinia told Efe about the transitioning process that she and her sister Litzy underwent.

Family rejection forced them to leave home at age 13; their transformation began immediately afterward when they let their hair grow, began taking hormones and later underwent breast augmentation surgery.

“We never went back to school … from an early age we began doing sex work,” starting in Santa Cruz but then leaving their former life behind completely and relocating to El Alto, she recalled.

Davinia was with Litzy on the night she was stabbed in the chest with a screwdriver following a brawl with a group of men and women who, she said, had been harassing her sister due to her sexual orientation.

Davinia also was stabbed several times and says it was a miracle that she survived.

A similar fate befell 19-year-old Gabriela, who also left her home in the northern city of Guayamerin and relocated to El Alto, where she lived with Davinia, received her help in the gender transition process and almost immediately thereafter became a sex worker.

Gabriela died after being stabbed nearly 20 times by a client who, according to Davinia, had contracted her services on several occasions and had taken photos with her.

But the investigation floundered due to a lack of security cameras at the building where the murder occurred, and the identity of the attacker was never determined.

“I’m afraid something could happen to me and they could brutally murder me like they did to Gabriela, like they did to my sister, and then later there’ll be no justice,” said Davinia, who works as a stylist but occasionally does sex work to make ends meet.

“Those who seek out us trans are mainly gays. They’re frustrated, they have their families,” Davinia said when asked whether there is a pattern of aggression.

After the sexual relations, some clients have regrets and feel hatred toward trans-gender people, but they later “seek us out again” and the “same thing happens,” Davinia said of a spiral that sometimes turns fatal.

According to the president of the organization TLGB de Bolivia (LGBT Bolivia), David Aruquipa, transgender people are the sector of the gay community who face the most adversity in terms of access to work and education.

In many cases, they endure poverty after having migrated from their home towns or cities.

Aruquipa says transgender people have spearheaded the struggle for the rights of the LGBT community in Bolivia and for this reason the T comes first in his organization’s name.

Those efforts recently bore fruit when Bolivia’s Civil Registry Service recognized civil unions between two same-sex people, a key milestone for the LGBT community in the face of opposition from “conservative or anti-rights” groups, Aruquipa, one of the beneficiaries of that decision, told Efe. EFE

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