She’s 19 years-old, an LGBT and immigration activist, undocumented, transgender and this year’s recipient of the Colin Higgins Foundation Youth Courage Award. She’s a fighter. She’s Victoria Villalba.
Victoria first came to the U.S. when she was three years old, but when her father was deported, the family returned to Mexico. Twelve years later, Victoria bravely came out to her parents.
“When I came out they rejected me. I no longer talk to my parents,” confessed Villalba, who after being outcasted by her family lived on her own for three years in Mexico. She struggled to find housing and employment.
She sought political asylum at the U.S. border. However, her request was denied, and she was held in a detention center. Her situation worsened after Victoria reported the injustices taking place in the detention center. As a result, she was placed in solitary confinement for three and a half months. It’s been a year since she was released.
“Getting out was the only thing that kept me going,” said Villalba. “I didn’t have someone outside waiting for me, and I didn’t know what would become of me if I ever got released. [Would I be] getting killed in my country of birth for my gender expression or in this U.S. detention center?”
Shortly after being released, Victoria joined the United We Dream: Queer Undocumented Immigrant Rights Project (QUIP) chapter in Arizona, an opportunity that would help her explore a new mission in life. Victoria became an avid activist fighting for the liberation of transgender and queer people in U.S. detention centers.
“I know I’m not the first one, and I know I won’t be the last,” said Villalba. “That’s why I’m standing up [for the trans community], hopefully the system stops discriminating against [transgender people] and starts treating us as humans.”
Her efforts have included launching hunger strikes, organizing informational conferences for undocumented transgender people, and spearheading success efforts to have three transgender women released from detention. Earlier this month the Colin Higgins Foundation presented Victoria with the Youth Courage Award and awarded her $10,000. The prize also included an all expense paid trip to L.A. Pride festival, one of the nation’s largest LGBT celebrations, where she’ll also be recognized at an awards ceremony.
“I feel honored to be receiving this award,” said Victoria. “I share this award with the trans community. I want to use the money to return to school and pursue a higher education. I want to become an immigration paralegal.”
Despite her successes, her one wish is to be back with her family.
“Even though they don’t accept me, I want to be with my sisters and brothers again. I hope it changes one day. I want them to be proud of me and happy of how far I’ve come along,” said Villalba.
Her message to other transgender people, “you don’t need long hair, makeup or surgical proceedings to be who you are. If I want to wear makeup and get dolled up, I will. If I don’t want to I won’t. I perfectly love myself either way.”
Tell us about other LGBT or immigrant activists that you admire. Please leave comments below.
Sometimes our familias can really surprise us. We want and expect them to understand everything we do and all that we are as individuals. And, of course, family should accept you for who you are. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case.
Whether you come out as gay or maybe you’re in an interracial relationship, sometimes family disappoints us. Sometimes they hurt us by not allowing us to be happy.
But, often enough, there are stories of immense change and progress. Stories of “it gets better” permeate the Internet and give hope to countless others who may be facing the same family crisis.
One man is seriously pushing us to the verge of a full blown cry fest with their heartwarming story of acceptance.
In a Tweet that has since gone viral, one trans man shares a video of their dad giving them a fade and trimming their beard in the backyard.
In the tweet, they explain that when they first came out as trans, their family didn’t know what to do with them. But that after three years of a not always easy journey, things have gotten better for them and their family
They remind us all that family acceptance isn’t the only way in which things can get better though.
For some, family may never come around. This twitter user notes that they’ve lost a lot of family and friends on their journey. But as queer people often point out, it’s also about your chosen family.
They also point out the true significance of self love and surrounding yourself with a support system no matter what that looks like.
And yea, ok, their dad may not be the best barber.
They point out that yea maybe the dad messed up the haircut, but whatevs, that’s besides the point. The point is…get yourself a support system that cuts your hair in the backyard because they love you.
As so many trans people know, being a trans person in this country is not only dangerous, it can mean the end of family and important friendships.
While a recent Ipsos survey suggests people around the world are becoming more tolerant of transgender people, one expert warns the “encouraging” results are not inevitable. They take work.
And many in the community have real world experience in losing the people who once meant the world to them.
And for trans women of color, in particular, the US is a very dangerous place.
The average life expectancy of a black trans woman in the US is thought to be 35. Most of this year’s victims were still in their twenties.
Federally, trans people have also seen cutbacks in protections in shelter, health care, and incarceration under the Trump administration.
In a statement, the Human Rights Campaign said, “It is clear that fatal violence disproportionately affects transgender women of color, and that the intersections of racism, transphobia, sexism, biphobia and homophobia conspire to deprive them of necessities to live and thrive,” the organization said.
“This epidemic of violence that disproportionately targets transgender people of color — particularly black transgender women — must cease.”
But right now, Twitter was absolutely loving for this heartwarming story.
Gurl, saaaaame. As a queer person, it’s incredibly powerful to hear stories of family acceptance. And to see and understand the journey that some families take — it’s proof that change and progress is possible. Sometimes in those people from whom we’d least expect it.
Many couldn’t hold back their ugly tears.
But like don’t worry. Pretty much all of Twitter is ugly crying right there alongside you.
Some on Twitter wanted to share their own similar experiences.
This person wanted to point out that they have a step child who is in transition and that’s she’s fully supportive of her child.
While another tweet wanted to keep things real.
For some, family and friends may never come around to your authentic self. Unfortunately, this is a reality that many trans and queer people constantly face.
Because, sadly, for many, things don’t get better with their family.
Many people commented that they were happy and moved by this story of acceptance and progress. However, for many other people that moment of acceptance hasn’t come yet and many feel that it may never.
But we’re gonna leave it on a feel good note…
We’re happy for you @transtramposo and can’t wait to hear more about your journey with your accepting family. Keep sharing these heartwarming moments!
According to the Pew Research Center, there are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants that reside in the U.S. as of 2016, which includes about 700,000 people under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. In total, the group represents 3.4 percent of the country’s total population. Undocumented students are a subset of this group and face various roadblocks due to their legal status, including obstacles that prevent them from receiving equal educational opportunities as U.S. citizens and legal U.S. residents.
Most universities don’t offer in-state tuition to undocumented students and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FASFA) is not available for undocumented students either. For those who live in states that don’t offer in-state tuition, it means taking on huge loans and working multiple jobs to pay for tuition, or sometimes, foregoing college altogether.
Yet, there are a handful of states in the U.S. that are doing their part to help undocumented students receive some sort of financial assistance. Whether that’s legislation extending in-state tuition rates to undocumented students who meet specific requirements or receiving state financial aid, there is help.
The following U.S. states allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid.
In California, there were 200,150 students that were participating in the DACA program as of August 2018, according to the Migration Policy Institute. This means that many of those students received some kind of financial assistance when it came to their education. State law (AB 540, AB 130, and AB 131) provides undocumented students with in-state tuition and state-funded financial aid. There are 23 campus options for the California State University system and 9 campus options of the University of California (UC).
The average cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,680
2. New Mexico
New Mexico is doing it’s part when it comes to helping undocumented students pursue higher education. The state offers in-state tuition and financial aid to undocumented students through SB 582. The state also has one of the lowest costs when it comes to in-state tuition and fees.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $6,920
Back in April 2013, Oregon adopted a state policy, HB 2787, granting in-state tuition to undocumented students. This has opened up countless opportunities for many who are pursuing college.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $10,360
Minnesota offers in-state tuition and state financial aid to undocumented students through the MN Dream Act. This includes over two dozen colleges and universities offer in-state tuition to all students, regardless of status, residence, or MN Dream Act eligibility.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $11,300
The Lone-Star State is certainly the biggest state in the country and is also one a huge resource when it comes to assisting aspiring colleges students. In Texas, undocumented students may qualify for Texas State Financial Aid. The state in 2001 became the first in the nation to allow undocumented immigrant students to pay in-state tuition to public universities. They only need to have lived in Texas for the three years before they graduated from high school.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,840
Undocumented students are eligible to receive in-state tuition as of 2003 via HB 1079. In 2014, the state also enacted the Washington State DREAM Act into law, making undocumented students eligible for state financial aid.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,480
7. New Jersey
In 2013, New Jersey gave in-state tuition benefits to undocumented immigrants. Last year, undocumented students were finally able to apply for state financial aid after Gov. Phil Murphy signed bill NJ S 699 (18R) opening up state funds for undocumented immigrants going to college.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $13,870
The following states allow for in-state tuition rates for undocumented students
(This includes the previous 6 mentioned states that allow undocumented students to receive state financial aid)
In 2013, state lawmakers in Colorado created SB 13-033 which allows undocumented children to follow their American dreams. They allowed them to pay the significantly cheaper in-state tuition to go to state colleges instead of higher out-of-state prices.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $10,800
In 2011, the Connecticut General Assembly approved a law which offers undocumented students residing in Connecticut in-state tuition benefits at the state’s public colleges. HB 8644 not only allows for undocumented students to pay in-state tuition for college, but it also states that students only have to attend two years of high school in the state to be eligible.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $12,390
Former Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 851 into law in 2014. The measure allows undocumented students who spent three consecutive years in a Florida high school and applied to an educational institution within 24 months of graduating to apply for and out-of-state tuition waiver.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $6,360
Undocumented students in Illinois are eligible for in-state tuition and private scholarships through Public Act 093-007 (In-State Tuition) and SB 2185 (Illinois DREAM Act). Students can also access the state’s Monetary Award Program, aka MAP grants.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $13,620
In 2018, HB 2145 gave undocumented students in Kansas access to in-state tuition. To qualify, students must have attended a Kansas high school for three or more years.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,230
In Maryland, things are a bit different compared to other states when it comes to financial assistance. Undocumented students are eligible for in-state tuition under SB 167, however, they must attend a community college before qualifying for in-state tuition at a public university.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $9,580
The state has provided in-state tuition to undocumented students for the last 13 years. LB 239 states that undocumented students must have attended high school for at least three years before graduating high school or receiving a GED.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $8,270
Utah gave undocumented students access to in-state tuition back in 2002. HB 144 states that people are eligible for in-state tuition if they attend high school in Utah for three or more years and must file or be willing to file when able an application for residency.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $6,790
9. New York
Through the Dream Act, undocumented students who meet the Tuition Assistance Program requirements, currently received access to state financial aid. Previously, New York had allowed all high school students who graduated from a New York high school an opportunity to receive in-state tuition at two local colleges, City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY).
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $7,940
HB 1804 made it possible for undocumented students in the state can receive in-state tuition if they graduated from a private or public Oklahoma high school and were accepted to a school in Oklahoma’s state university system.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $8,460
11. Rhode Island
While it might be the smallest state in the country, it’s still doing its part to help undocumented college students by offering in-state tuition. The Board of Governors for Higher Education voted unanimously to give undocumented students in-state tuition if they graduated from a Rhode Island high school and sign an affidavit saying they will apply for legal residency when eligible.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $12,230
Virginia still has work to do but, currently, students on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) are eligible for in-state tuition. However, there are people fighting to expand that benefit to all undocumented residents of the state.
The average 2017-18 cost of in-state tuition and fees: $12,820