Let Girls Lead is thrilled to share this blog as the conclusion to our blog series written by amazing girl leaders around the world in celebration of International Day of the Girl. Today, read a piece by Rihanna Ferrera, co-founder of Asociación Cozumel Trans and 2013 Let Girls Lead fellow, on the challenges facing trans women in Honduras and the critical importance of passing of a gender identity law.
From as early as I can remember, I felt like a girl. I would put on my aunt's high heels, and play with dolls and other "girly" toys. My friends were all girls. I grew up with my aunt and uncle, not my parents, and when my aunt would catch me doing these things, she would tell me to act more like an "hombrecito" (a little man), and slap me or pull my ears.
My family was part of one of Honduras' biggest evangelical churches, Vida Abundante ("Abundant Life"), and in my home and at church I had to conform. I felt confused and didn't tell anyone how I felt inside, because I knew they would kick me out of the house or send me to military school to "make me a real man."
When I left home at the age of 17, I had so many questions. For a while I thought I was gay. Then, I met a transgender woman and we became friends. I started wearing some of her clothes and growing out my hair. That was the beginning of my transition. I am still in touch with my family, but many of them just think I am gay; they don't understand that I am a woman.
In my own story, I see the stories of many of my trans sisters, and I ask myself, "Why can't we be free to be women? What would my childhood, and the rest of my life, have been like if I had been allowed to wear girl's clothing as a child?"
To help our community in Honduras, one year ago this month, a friend and I founded Asociación Cozumel Trans. We've been supported by LGBT organizations, UNAIDS, Let Girls Lead, and a few other international organizations. Our most surprising allies have come in the form of evangelical churches. They minister to trans sex workers and tell them that God loves and accepts them. When I began my transition at 17, my pastor told me that "a rotten apple can spoil the bunch," and that I was no longer welcome. So many of us have been kicked out of the church, so having a church that accepts us is a relief.
The population that Asociación Cozumel Trans serves is mostly between 15 and 25 years old. Many of them are from Tegucigalpa or nearby towns where there are already some out trans people. Trans girls growing up in rural communities, on the other hand, face a complete lack of role models and support. They grow up confused, thinking they are gay, and without any education or empowerment; they can't really claim their rights as human beings.
The lack of formal recognition of our gender as trans women is the biggest challenge that we are facing. Because there is no gender identity law, we are denied access to education, work, and personal security. One of the members of our organization is a nurse; to complete school and find work, she had to cut her hair, bind her breasts, and pretend to be a man. Because of discrimination like this, the majority of out trans women in Honduras are sex workers, where they face huge risks in the form of physical violence, as well as exposure to HIV and other STIs.
Because of this, we are fighting for a gender identity law that would allow people to live openly and protect all people's access to education and dignified work. Even though I may not see the fruits of this process, I dream of a day when we can be free, when trans women can participate in all sectors of society without discrimination. The lack of a law of this kind impacts all aspects of our lives. For example, when we first looked for an office for the organization, we called a real estate agent who offered us a perfect space. When we showed up to pay the deposit and he realized we were trans, he told us it had already been rented. I am looking forward to the day when someone like that meets us and invites us into their office openly, rather than lying and turning us away.
Ever since I was a little girl, I have wanted to become the president of Honduras. I am planning on running for Congress, on a platform of helping young trans women and other abandoned children living on the streets of Tegucigalpa. I want to become part of the government to help our society advance -- not just trans women, but all of us together.
We invite you to follow our @LetGirlsLead blog series, running from Monday, September 22nd to the International Day of the Girl on Saturday, October 11th on the Huffington Post. Each piece is an intimate window into the experiences of a girl leader and what she is doing to make the world a better place. Through the series, you can learn firsthand about the challenges facing girls globally and the amazing work girls are doing to create a better future.
Let Girls Lead is building a global movement of Champions who empower girls to attend school, stay healthy, escape poverty, and overcome violence. Let Girls Lead invests in girls and their allies to lead social change through advocacy, education, storytelling, economic empowerment, and strategic partnerships. Since 2009, Let Girls Lead's externally validated model has contributed to improved health, education, livelihoods, and rights for more than 3 million girls through laws, programs, and funding. Let Girls Lead's sister initiative, Champions for Change, leverages this proven model to save the lives of women, newborns, and children by empowering leaders and organizations to advocate for reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health in Nigeria.
Champions for Change and Let Girls Lead are headquartered at the Public Health Institute in Oakland, CA, a leader in global health and development for 50 years.