12/19/2011 01:54 pm ET Updated Dec 19, 2011

Valeria Villalta: Transgender Latina Immigrant Tells Positive Story As Others Face Waves Of Discrimination

The story of Valeria Villalta, a 30-year-old transgender immigrant from El Salvador, has a rare positive outcome. Many others aren't so fortunate.

Villata was able to start a new life, free of discrimination, after coming to the U.S. and being granted asylum, according to The Washington Post.

According to the article, Valeria Villalta was smuggled into Arizona in 2006. She won her case for asylum in 2009. Villalta currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she works with health education programs to raise awareness and support people with HIV/AIDS. She is also active in gay and transgender youth programs.

In El Salvador, life was different for Villata, who suffered physical abuse and was once held at gunpoint and threatened to be killed solely because of her sexual orientation, according to The Washington Post.

Villalta's struggles are not uncommon for gay and transgender people in Spanish-speaking countries. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, at least 17 members of the gay community in Puerto Rico have been murdered since 2010. In addition, Puerto Rico's Senate recently approved a provision that would "eliminate sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, ethnicity and religious beliefs from the hate crimes statute," according to EDGE NEWS.

While Villalta's experience in the U.S. is largely positive, discrimination against transgender Latinos doesn't always end at the border.

A recent report by National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE), the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), "Injustice At Every Turn: A Look At Latino/A Respondent In The National Transgender Discrimination Survey", examined discrimination against transgender people in the U.S. The report found strong evidence suggesting transgender bias, particularly against Latinos.

The report indicated that non-citizen Latino/a respondents were often among those most vulnerable to harassment, abuse and violence. It also found that unemployment for Latino/a transgender people was at 20 percent, higher than the overall transgender sample at 14 percent.

The racial component seems to be a common thread. A study released by "Mujeres Latinas en Acción" ("Latino Women in Action") titled "Latina Portrait: Latina Queer Women in Chicago," which surveyed 305 queer women in Chicago about their experiences, also found evidence of discrimination against Latinos in the LGBT community, according to Windy City Media Group.

Nearly 69 percent of Latinos surveyed said that racist remarks had been directed at them, while almost 85 percent said they had been in the presence of such remarks, according to Windy City Media Group.

"The findings overall were shocking," the co-author of "Latina Portrait: Latina Queer Women in Chicago", Lourdes Torres, said in a panel discussion, according to Arte Y Vida Chicago. "We were surprised at the degree to which Latina queers felt discriminated against in the LGBTQ community and the numbers and nature of the domestic violence experiences."