Mexico: Transgender migrants find safe haven in Juarez

JUAREZ, Mexico — A rainbow flag sways in the wind outside a pink two-story house in an out-of-the-way Juarez neighborhood. Inside, 38 men and boys tell jokes, try on new skirts or dresses and help fix each other’s hair. The environment is cheerful, almost festive. Each laugh and smile helps these transsexual migrants from Central America overcome a lifetime of rejection, reproach and violence, says Grecia Herrera, who runs the house.

“They come here with physical scars and deep emotional wounds. Some have suffered violence so ugly and degrading that they cannot bring themselves to talk about it,” Herrera said. “They come here without money, malnourished and sometimes sick. Our intent is to help them heal.”

Herrera runs Respettrans Chihuahua, a nonprofit seeking to provide temporary shelter to transsexual migrants who come to the border to request asylum in the United States.

The officers beat us and took us to a detention center. The police purposely put us in the men’s cell. We had to fend them off all day because they were touching us, pulling our hair, slapping our butts. We could not sleep at all… we were terrified, we were crying, we were yelling for the police to put us in another cell

“We Mexicans complain that things are not so good, but these women come from places that are much worse in terms of discrimination and basic human rights,” she said. “They are not coming here to improve their economic situation. They have no American dream. They are fleeing life-threatening situations; they just want to survive.”

The organization is a year old, but the house just opened its doors last May. Herrera said she started it after the death of Roxsana Hernandez, a transsexual woman who died after staying in a government detention facility in the United States.

“I identify with the migrants because I came from a small town in Chihuahua. I suffered rejection from my family and here, I lived on the streets and slept under bridges. I learned to defend myself and then another woman, an older trans, helped me improve myself. I want to do the same thing,” Herrera said.

Although now a respected activist and municipal worker, she carries the scars of past violence: dental surgery for broken teeth and loss of hearing on one ear.

Herrera was also close to Johana Medina Leon, who died in El Paso this year after being paroled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement after getting sick in an Otero County detention facility.

Activists in Las Cruces, New Mexico, said Leon, or “Joa,” as her friends knew her, had health issues and medical needs that authorities ignored. ICE has denied the allegations. Read more via KTSM