Andrea Flores recalls getting stares and muffled comments by Latinos when she walked across the City College of San Francisco’s Mission campus.
“They would look at me and they would laugh,” said Flores, a shy, soft spoken, slim transgender woman with long flowing hair.
“They would say, ‘there goes a joto,” she added, describing the derogatory Spanish slang word used to describe a gay man.
Flores and her friend Juanita Martinez, who is also transgender, decided to combat the homophobia that exists in the immigrant Latino community with open discussions – ones they would have to create.
On Saturday, 28 people—the majority of them Latino and Spanish speaking—attended the second meeting of the TransLatinas, a new club at City College’s Mission campus.
“We’re a group of people who are constantly being attacked by the heterosexual community. I’m tired of it. The attacks I suffer are mostly from the Latino community here in the Mission,” said 47-year-old Brenda Oliveira, a native of Mexico.
The goal of the group is two fold: to encourage transgender Latinas to take advantage of English, computer, or certificate programs at City College and to educate the straight Latino community about transgender and GLBT issues.
“When you see a transgender person, don’t judge them. Get to know them. You’ll see we’re like everyone else. We’re nice people. We’re friendly,” said Martinez.
Transgender people often face barriers ranging from discrimination in obtaining employment to suffering violent attacks from strangers. This can even be more so in an isolated, Latino community.
Gamariel Hernandez, who is from Chiapas, a southern state in Mexico, described being hit by a gang member simply for being gay.
“This beautiful scar right here was thanks to a gang member,” he said pointing to a side of his face.
But things in Latin American appear to be changing.
Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have launched media campaigns against homophobia.
Last year, Mexico City’s legislature approved gay marriage—the first such law in Latin America. People can also adopt children and receive government benefits for couples under the new law.
“My respects go to the people in Mexico City because now gay people can marry,” said one attendee, who self-described as being “in the closet.”
Participants talked about how to regain self-esteem, how to handle negative comments, and where to seek help when they’ve been discriminated against.
They also talked about upcoming projects, including the participation in Miss TransLatina, a beauty pageant, and setting up skills workshops where one member leads a class on how to cut hair or do basic carpentry, for instance.
Flores said she left school at 15 because her classmates constantly badgered her. And she doesn’t want others to forgo an education because they feel isolated or rejected in school.
“I returned to school two years ago. I regret not having returned earlier,” Flores told the group. “You should not waste time. Take advantage of computer and English classes.”