“Freak.” That’s what a customer yelled at a transgender diner waitress in the popular TV series What Would You Do? Luckily, this time the customer was an actor. And the waitress? Carmen Carrera, the first transgender woman to marry on television. Carrera appeared on the show to open people’s eyes to bullying the transgender community suffers every day. If you can stomach the vile hatred for a few minutes, you will get to see some pretty amazing stuff.
With homosexuality still illegal in more than 60 countries around the world and attitudes towards transgendered people often even less welcoming, it’s obvious why so many people risk their lives to migrate to the United States.
However, that journey to a better life is often one of many dangerous hurdles and often times, once swept up in immigration proceedings, things don’t get much better.
LGBTQ detainees across the country have shared harrowing experiences of being mocked or tortured for their gender identity or sexual orientation. Many others have been sexually assaulted while in ICE custody or while waiting for their asylum claims at the U.S.-Mexico border. And transgendered and HIV-positive detainees have both been denied medically necessary healthcare that has posed a risk to their lives.
LGBTQ migrants have the same issues and problems to worry about that all other migrants face, however, the LGBTQ experience comes with several extra hurdles.
LGBTQ migrants coming to the U.S. face unique challenges that often put them at increased risk of violence.
Like so many others, LGBTQ migrants are often fleeing violence and persecution in their native countries. But despite often fleeing sexual violence and trans- and homophobia, so many migrants are sexually assaulted while in U.S. custody.
While just 0.14 percent of ICE detainees self-identified as LGBTQ in 2017, they reportedly accounted for 12 percent of sexual abuse and assault victims.
Based on a new report from the Center for American Progress, a public policy research and advocacy organization, LGBTQ migrants in federal detention centers are 97 times more likely to be sexually assaulted than other detainees.
Studies show LGBTQ migrants are among the most vulnerable, more likely to be assaulted and killed, especially trans migrants. Of Central American LGBTQ migrants interviewed by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees in 2017, 88 percent were victims of sexual and gender-based violence in their countries of origin; two-thirds suffered similar attacks in Mexico.
Human rights group allege that ICE fails to provide proper medical care to LGBTQ migrants – particularly trans and HIV-positive detainees.
Migrant advocacy groups and several lawmakers have demanded that ICE release all LGBTQ detainees and anyone with HIV in the agency’s custody, because the government has repeatedly failed to provide adequate medical and mental health care to them.
“We know that lack of medical and mental-health care, including lack of HIV care, is the norm,” Roger Coggan, director of legal services at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, told the San Diego Union-Tribune. “By the Department of Homeland Security’s own count, 300 individuals identifying as transgender have been in custody and at the mercy of ICE since October of 2018.
For detainees with HIV, antiretroviral treatment is necessary to help kill and suppress the virus which ensures a healthy life but also reduces the risk of transmission to basically zero. Yet ICE is failing to provide this life-saving care.
Johana Medina Leon, a transgender woman who was detained at Otero and had tested positive for HIV, fell seriously ill and died at a hospital in nearby El Paso. Leon, 25, was the second trans woman to die in ICE custody in New Mexico in the past year. Roxsana Hernandez, 33, died in November 2018 after falling ill at the Cibola County Correctional Facility.
Meanwhile, Trump’s “Remain in Mexico” policy is presenting additional challenges to the LGBTQ community.
While the Trump administration has severely limited asylum qualifications for Central Americans fleeing gang violence and domestic abuse, migrants can still request asylum based on persecution because of their gender identity and/or their sexual orientation. But their path is far from easy.
The administration continues to return LGBTQ migrants to Mexican border cities where they face assaults, kidnappings and death while they await U.S. court hearings.
“Here, the same as at home, the police discriminate against us,” Alejandro Perez told NBC News in early October. “We’re very vulnerable. I don’t feel safe here in Mexico.”
Border Patrol officials initially said “vulnerable” asylum seekers would be exempted from the Remain in Mexico program, including those who are LGBTQ, pregnant or disabled. But that hasn’t been the case.
Thankfully, the LGBTQ Center Orange County is working hard to protect and help the most vulnerable.
Southern California is home to the nation’s largest undocumented community, which means organizations like the LGBTQ Center Orange County have their work cut out for them. However, the center has proudly stood up to help in powerful and life-changing ways.
The LGBTQ Center OC is one of the leading migrant outreach centers in the region, attending numerous events throughout the year and providing outreach at the Mexican consulate in Santa Ana – each year reaching more than 5,000 people. The center also played a pivotal role in ending the partnership of Santa Ana Police and the Orange County Sheriff with ICE, bringing an end to ICE detention within the county.
As those migrants were detained at facilities outside the county – sometimes more than two hours away – the center mobilized volunteers to help stay in touch with detainees. This team helps provide much needed companionship through letters and notes, as well as providing legal representation and even cash payments that help detainees get everything from a filling meal to in-person visits.
And the work the center does is so important because it shouldn’t just be on detainees to speak out. All of us as part of the LGBTQ and migrant communities should support those in detention and speak out about the injustices they’re suffering in detention.
The Center is hosting a digital posada and you’re invited!
We all know the tradition of a posada. So many of us grew up with a holiday season full of them and although this year will look very different (thanks to Covid-19), the LGBTQ Center OC wants to keep the tradition and celebration alive.
Posadas commemorate the journey of Mary and Joseph in search of a safe refuge, a sentiment that so many migrants and refugees in our communities can relate to. It’s with this spirit that the center is hosting it’s annual posada – but virtually.
The important event is free for all to attend but is a critical fundraising event that enables the center to do all that it does for the LGBTQ migrant community across Southern California. You can learn more and RSVP here but just know that it’s an event you do not want to miss.
Not only will you be able to virtually hang out with members of the community and leaders from the LGBTQ Center OC but there will also be a screening of the short documentary, Before & After Detention, a spirited round of lotería, raffle, and a live performance by the LGBTQ Mariachi Arcoíris de Los Angeles.
The reboot of “Charmed” continues to make strides with representation on screen. The hit CW show which centers on three Latina witch sisters has consistently gone out of its way to showcase actors and characters of diverse backgrounds. And now, on the eve of Transgender Awareness week, the fantasy series is introducing its first transgender character.
According to Deadline, transgender actor J.J. Hawkins will be joining the series’ third season.
Hawkins will be playing a character named Kevin, a trans college student who “inspires one of the Charmed Ones to take on a very formidable opponent.” This casting announcement is significant because it shows that the “Charmed” team is taking calls for informed casting to heart. Not only is “Charmed” writing in a trans character, but the show took pains to hire a transgender actor as well–a casting choice that is, sadly, still rare in Hollywood.
In interviews, “Charmed” executive producer Jennie Snyder Urman (who also created “Jane the Virgin”), has talked about how important bringing diversity to the “Charmed” reboot is.
“We’ve had the chance to see three white witches [in the original],” Urman told a group of TV critics in 2018. “And obviously coming off ‘Jane,’ I know so much more about what it means to be on screen, to see yourself represented, to see yourself being the hero of the story.”
Urman also explained why the writers decided to make one of three sisters (Mel) queer as opposed to all three sisters being straight, like in the original series. “This should be a normal thing,” she said during the same discussion. “Just a relationship with two people loving each other.” It appears that the “Charmed” team is also taking the same approach with trans representation. Hopefully the writers will take steps to portray Hawkins’ character as a normal, well-rounded person with an interior life.
In the past, other Hollywood projects have come under scrutiny for casting cisgender actors to play trans characters.
The most famous example of this was when Scarlett Johansson announced that she would be playing a famous trans man named Dante “Tex” Gill in an upcoming biopic on Gill’s life. While Johansson experienced massive blowback for this, she initially doubled down on her decision before stepping back from the film. But still, Hollywood continues to make the same mistake.
Very recently, Halle Berry also made headlines when she told her Instagram followers she was researching an upcoming role where she would be playing a trans man. To make matters worse, Berry kept mis-gendering her character. Thankfully, Berry listened to both her fans and trans activists and withdrew from the role, saying “the transgender community should undeniably have the opportunity to tell their own stories.”