Things That Matter

After Almost Two Years, Trans Activist Alejandra Barrera Has Been Released From ICE Custody

After nearly two years in detention, Alejandra Barrera, a 44-year-old transgender Salvadorian activist, was released from an ICE facility in New Mexico late last Friday. Human rights activists and the transgender immigrant community are rejoicing at the news that Barrera will finally be freed after being held in U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention since November 2017.

Barrera, who hails from El Salvador, fled her country due to discrimination and persecution. Shortly after seeking asylum in the U.S, she was detained at the Cibola County Correctional Center in New Mexico, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s detention center with a unit specifically for transgender women that opened in 2017, according to the Phoenix New Times. During her time at the detention facility, there were numerous complaints of abuse and maltreatment of inmates that included the death of Roxsana Hernandez Rodriguez, a transgender woman who died of HIV-related complications last year. 

 Before leaving El Salvador, Barrera was a well-known activist in her home country where she stood up for transgender rights for over a decade. But with this attention also came attacks from local gangs and the Salvadoran military who targeted her and forced her to eventually leave in and claim asylum in November 2017. In spite of all of this, Barrera was repeatedly denied asylum in the U.S.

Many people and organizations helped build awareness around the release of Barrera. But it was the hashtag #FreeAlejandra that made the world know her story. 

Credit: @outmagazine / Twitter

Barrera’s release is the culmination of a year-long campaign by multiple nonprofit organizations like the Amnesty International, the Translatin@ Coalition and the National Immigrant Justice Center. This also included the help of federal lawmakers like Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Adam Schiff (Calif.), and Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) 

Many first heard the story of Barrera with the hashtag #FreeAlejandra that circulated online for months spreading awareness of her detention. A Change.org petition demanding her freedom received more than 36,000 signatures and raised awareness of Barerra’s case using the hashtag #FreeAlejandra.

“Through letters of support, people from around the world gave me the strength to continue in this struggle that was so hard for me. I’m here to keep fighting”  Barrera said in response to everyone that helped share her story. 

Bamby Salcedo, the executive director of Translatin@ Coalition, acknowledged all the work put forth to have Barrera finally released. She said in a video posted to Facebook the day of  Barrera’s release that her “heart is so full of joy” now that Barrera is finally out.

“It was because of all of your calls, because of all of you signing petitions, showing up to the rallies, showing up the press conferences, her lawyers – everyone – all of you who wrote letters to Alejandra, everyone who participated in la campaigna de #FreeAlejandra – should be very proud because this is one more victory and we should be able to celebrate,” Salcedo said in the video. 

Barrera is currently released on parole while she waits for her asylum case to go to immigration court.

Credit: @mghtranshealth / Twitter

While Barrera is out and getting to enjoy her freedom, her fight for asylum is not over just yet. As of now, Barrera’s asylum status is still not secure and must now continue to fight against her deportation. If she is not granted asylum, Barrera faces the daunting possibility of being deported back to El Salvador. 

Denise Bell, Amnesty International’s researcher for refugee and migrant rights, told the Daily News that while her organization is happy that Barrera is out of ICE detention, the fight is not over yet. Bell says that she hopes that Barrera’s case becomes an example of what happens when people come together to bring awareness to a good cause. 

“We don’t think that she should be returned to El Salvador, where we are gravely concerned for her well-being,” Bell told the Daily News. “Trans people in detention are at a special risk of abuse because of their special medical needs, often, and [because of] their gender identity. So we just want to draw attention to the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other trans people who are seeking asylum, who are in immigration detention [and] who should be released on parole

Barrera is currently being represented by Rebekah Wolf of the Equal Justice Coalition, who fought and brought awareness for her release. While she seeks refuge, Barrera will stay with a sponsor from the TransLatin@ Coalition. 

According to the Washington Blade, ICE estimates that at least 111 transgender people who are being held in U.S. detention centers. The number is an increase that what ICE estimated just five months prior and it does not include detainees that might have been uncounted. 

READ: Mexico Has Become The World’s Second-Deadliest Country For Transgender People To Live And Many Are Worried

The Miss Universe Pageant Featured Its First Openly Lesbian Contestant And Crowned Miss South Africa The Winner

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The Miss Universe Pageant Featured Its First Openly Lesbian Contestant And Crowned Miss South Africa The Winner

NBC Universal / Miss Universe

Miss Universe made history this year. First crowning Miss South Africa, Zozibini Tunzi as its winner. Tunzi has dark skin and a short-cropped afro — rampant anti-blackness means most people would not have conceived of her as the most desirable woman in the universe just a few years ago. Tunzi’s win is a win for black women across the universe but she wasn’t the only victor that night, even if she reigned supreme. 

Swe Zin Htet, Miss Myanmar, is the pageant’s first openly gay contestant. In fact, Htet came out publicly only a week before the pageant’s final round. The competition hasn’t had an out contestant in its 67-year history. In Myanmar, homosexuality is illegal. Not only was Htet making a stance in Miss Universe, but in a country where she could face very real consequences, including an imprisonment sentence of 10 years to life

Htet comes out to help the LGBTQ community back home.

The 21-year-old contestant wants to use her influence to change the laws against homosexuality in Burma, Myanmar. Members of the LGBTQ community in Burma still face all levels of discrimination and ostracization in society.

“I have that platform that, if I say that I’m a lesbian, it will have a big impact on the LGBTQ community back in Burma,” Htet said. “The difficult thing is that in Burma, LGBTQ people are not accepted. They are looked down on by other people and are being discriminated against.” 

Htet came out on November 29 in an interview with a beauty blog called Missosology. When asked if Htet had any personal causes she told the interviewer that she strongly supported same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. It was only a matter of moments before she proudly revealed she was a lesbian herself. 

“I came to a full realization about my sexual orientation over a long period of time. I knew I was ‘one of them’ way back in 2015. It is personally quite challenging but I feel that I have a greater voice and the best position to promote this cause. Some pageant fans know about it and they still support me but this is the first time I am able to talk about it in public,” she told Missosology. 

Coming out wasn’t easy, but Htet hopes it will have a positive change.

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Este es mi último posado oficial como @missuniversespain 2018 y es tan especial como el primero que realicé a días de ser coronada en la hermosa ciudad de Tarragona. Ha pasado más de un año y la emoción de ser #España permanece intacta. Ha sido un camino de descubrimientos, aprendizajes y evolución en el que juntos hicimos historia llevando al universo un mensaje que rompió barreras sociales. Hoy quiero agradecerles a cada uno de ustedes por ser incondicionales conmigo, por acompañarme en las risas, en el llanto, en la lucha por los derechos humanos, en la ardua tarea de educar sobre la diversidad del ser humano y en el orgullo de representar la energía, la cultura y la idiosincrasia de mi país. Gracias universo, gracias #España, gracias a ustedes, mis queridos amigos. Siempre suya, Ángela Ponce. _______ This is my last official shoot as @missuniversespain 2018 and it's just as special as the very first one I did just days after being crowned in the beautiful city of Tarragona. It's been over a year and the excitement to represent Spain is just as alive today! It's been a journey in which we've learned and discovered new things. We have evolved together and made history taking a message that broke barriers and has had a social impact. Today I want to thank each of you for your unconditional support to me. You've been there for me through the good times and bad, throughout this fight for human rights and the difficult task of educating about human diversity. I am very proud to represent the energy, culture and values of my country. Thank you, Universe. Thank you, #Spain. Thank you to all you, my dear friends. Always yours, Ángela Ponce. – Fotografía: @ivandumont. – Coordinación: @rogervrgs. – Producción: @tino.constantino. – Maquillaje y peinado: @jcesarmakeup. – Vestido: @douglastapiaoficial. – Pendientes: @gwittles. – Corona: @gwittles. – Locación: Hotel @vpplazaespanadesign – Org Miss Universe Spain: @milamartinez_pageantcoach.

A post shared by ANGELA PONCE (@angelaponceofficial) on

Htet told People that coming out wasn’t easy. She knew who she was since she was 15 at least, but her parents weren’t immediately as understanding as she had hoped. 

“At first, they were mad. They didn’t accept me. But later, when they found out more about the LGBTQ community, they started to accept me,” she said. 

Because LGBTQ members experience bigotry in her country, when she entered a three-year relationship with the famous Burmese singer Gae Gae, she had to keep it a secret. The contestant received praise from Paula Shugart, president of The Miss Universe Organization. 

“We are honored to give a platform to strong, inspirational women like Miss Universe Myanmar, who are brave enough to share their unique stories with the world,” Shugart said in a statement. “Miss Universe will always champion women to be proud of who they are.”

While Htet is the first out and proud lesbian in the Miss Universe pageant, there have been other open members of the LGBTQ community. Last year, Angela Ponce, who happens to be trans, was crowned Miss Spain. 

Black women reign supreme in the pageant world for the first time ever.

Hip Latina notes that in 2019, for the first time ever, Miss America, Miss Teen USA, Miss USA, and Miss Universe were all black women. The times, they’re changing! Beauty pageants have been known to promote a white European, cis, thin standard of beauty. While these wins are symbolic they do represent that the larger public perception of black women’s beauty is evolving. 

“I grew up in a world where a woman who looks like me—with my kind of skin and my kind of hair—was never considered to be beautiful,” Tunzi said as she was crowned. “I think it is time that stops today. I want children to look at me and see my face, and I want them to see their faces reflected in mine.”

Even Oprah Winfrey spoke out about the historic win.

Oprah Winfrey congratulated Tunzi on Twitter and invited her to speak at the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls. Leadership was on Tunzi’s mind as well when she won

She said, “I think we are the most powerful beings in the world and that we should be given every opportunity and that is what we should be teaching these young girls—to take up space. Nothing is as important as taking up space in society and cementing yourself.”

People Are Torn On A California Church’s Political Nativity Scene Calling Attention To Immigration Crisis

Things That Matter

People Are Torn On A California Church’s Political Nativity Scene Calling Attention To Immigration Crisis

Claremont United Methodist Church

It is the holiday season so you know people and churches are getting their nativity scenes together. Most are just run-of-the-mill nativity scenes with the animals, wise men, baby Jesus, and his parents Mary and Joseph. However, one church in California used its nativity scene to call attention to the humanitarian crisis on the southern border with children in cages. Here’s how they did it and how people on social media are reacting.

Claremont United Methodist Church is using its nativity scene this year to highlight the immigration crisis on the southern border.

Credit: @LATBermudez / Instagram

The Methodist church has a statement on their website directly address the crisis of asylum-seeking children at the southern border. For months, we have seen images of children taken away from their parents at the border and put into cages.

Claremont United Methodist Church wants people to know that the asylum crisis is devastating innocent families.

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“We at Claremont United Methodist Church (CUMC) responded swiftly to the need of over 2,700 children of immigrants seeking asylum at the US/Mexican border. These children were forcibly taken from their parents and scattered throughout the United States in April and May of 2018,” reads a statement by Rose Schneeberger on the Claremont United Methodist Church website. “Our church raised over $10,000 to assist with the legal representation of separated children through Justice for Our Neighbors (JFON). The plight continues as more families have been detained in the last couple of months and the number of children separated from their family continues to grow.”

The church’s nativity scene is showing people what the fate of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph would have had to endure if they were migrants to the U.S. today.

Credit: macmanx2 / Instagram

“In a time in our country when refugee families seek asylum at our border and are unwillingly separated from one another, we consider the most well-known refugee family in the world, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, the Holy Family,” reads a plaque in front of the nativity scene. “Shortly after the birth of Jesus, Joseph and Mary were forced to flee with their young son from Nazareth to Egypt to escape King Herod, a tyrant. They feared persecution and death.”

“What if this family sought refuge in our country today?”

“Imagine Joseph and Mary separated at the border and Jesus, no older than two, taken from his mother and placed behind the fences of a Border Patrol detention center as more than 5,500 children have been the past three years.”

“Jesus grew up to teach us kindness and mercy and a radical welcome of all people.”

“He said: ‘I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me.’ – Matthew 25:35”

“In the Claremont United Methodist Church nativity scene this Christmas, the Holy Family takes the place of the thousands of nameless families separated at our border.”

“Inside the church, you will see this same family reunited, the Holy Family together, in a nativity that joins the angels in singing.”

“‘Glory to God in the highest on earth, peace and good will to all.’ – Luske 2:14.

People on social media are moved by the powerful image of the church’s nativity.

Credit: @thugbro_s / Instagram

It truly is a striking image to see the classic nativity scene turned into a powerful political statement about our immigration policy. Seeing baby Jesus in a manger separated from his parents into cages is something many people never thought they’d see.

People immediately saw the comparison of the nativity and our current immigration system.

Credit: @universalceo0 / Twitter

“In addition to the remaining separated children, there are over 15,000 youth and children at detention facilities throughout the United States,” reads a statement by Rose Schneeberger on the Claremont United Methodist Church website. “The CUMC Creative Peacemaking Committee has decided to keep our congregation aware of this urgent need and to encourage church members to continue to support the efforts of JFON by donating funds for the legal representation of separated children and asylum-seeking families currently in detention centers.”

Some people tried to argue with the church’s message to fit their political agendas.

Credit: @isooner / Twitter

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, according to the Bible, were forced to leave Nazareth and go to Egypt in order to avoid persecution. The family’s story of fleeing to a new country in search of safety and protection from a tyrant king seeking to persecute them is reminiscent of the families seeking asylum and peace in the U.S.

Others are showing the true conditions of the U.S. detention centers.

Credit: @ElSrdelTaco / Twitter

The conditions along the southern border have been in the news for years. Reports of overcrowding, unsanitary conditions, and multiple deaths have highlighted the dangers of those in detention centers. Many of the facilities are housing more people than physically possible after the Trump administration’s crackdown on immigration.

Basically, people are upset that a church would use a nativity scene to get people talking about the immigration crisis because it worked.

Credit: @1600PAave / Twitter

What do you think about the nativity scene at Claremont United Methodist Church?

READ: Mexican Government Makes It Illegal To Buy And Sell The Moss Families Use To Create Their Nacimientos