When Armstrong Santana still lived in Venezuela, he attended many protests against the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. As a student at one of the most prestigious public universities in the country, Santana felt the need to fight against what he believed to be a broken government.
Now living in France, Santana watches the current protests in Venezuela from afar, and feels a sense of sadness as civil unrest continues across his country.
“I left the country because living in the most dangerous city in the world(Caracas) is not propaganda, but a cruel reality,” Santana said. “I also realized [leaving] was the only way I was going to be able to be who I really was.”
For Santana and many other LGBTQ Venezuelans living abroad, leaving the country was a necessary step toward living more openly as a gender or sexual minority.
“The basic issue is that we are not an issue,” said Isaac Perez, who left Venezuela in 2015 and now lives in Argentina.
“When basic needs [are not being met], when people are more concerned with finding a meal to eat, you don’t have time to focus on [LGBTQ rights],” he explained.
Many times those who do fight for progress for the country’s LGBTQ community find their own lives and livelihoods put at risk. Activists Wendell Oviedo and Yonatan Matheus fled Venezuela in 2016 after receiving threats of violence to their personal safety.
The two activists believe the threats they received were in response to the work they did as directors of Venezuela Diversa — an LGBTQ civil society organization fighting for LGBTQ and human rights in the country, with a focus on hate crimes, police abuse and the violation of rights of transgender women engaged in sex work.
“Cases of violations of LGBTI rights [in Venezuela] continue to rise and are not reflected in official statistics,” Matheus told NBC Out. “Victims prefer anonymity rather than being doubly victimized by law enforcement.” Read more via NBC