How is the Covid-19 pandemic affecting LGBTI activism worldwide?
ILGA World is collecting the stories and experiences of activists who want to share with our global family how they have re-organised their work due to the pandemic, and keeping reaching out to our LGBTI communities on the ground.
With over 1.3 million confirmed cases (source: Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center), the United States have been hit extremely hard by the pandemic, and the most marginalised communities are struggling in unique ways.
We spoke to Liaam Winslet, the acting executive director of Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo – a community organisation led by Spanish-speaking trans persons in the New York state, founded in 2015 by trans, Latinx and migrants persons, sex workers and people living with HIV. “Our communities are facing a distressing mental health and economic crisis: our resources are running out”, she told us. And yet, “we continue to build initiatives for our community with the tools we have at hand. Resistance and sisterhood will keep us firm to overcome these difficult times.”
Liaam and the Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo have not been stranger to loss themselves during this period: the founder of the organisation, Lorena Borjas, died from complications of Covid-19 at the end of March, mourned by a whole community.
“You will always be the trans mother of the entire Latinx immigrant trans community in Queens, New York - forever our barrio butterfly, the woman who taught us so much, our role model for resisting all situations”, Liaam remembers her today. Vowing to keep on fighting.
(all the photos in this article are authored
by the Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo)
Tell us who you are, and about the organisation you work for
My name is Liaam Winslet - a trans, transfeminist, migrant, mestizo, Latina and sex worker woman. I migrated to the United States like many of my trans siblings who are forced to leave their countries.
I am passionate about fostering unity, working and fighting together to create and promote inclusive and affirming initiatives to advance equality for our identities. I work as a consultant in various programs and with various organisations at the local, national and international levels. I am currently based in New York City. I like to dream big, to express clear and solid ideas, to execute them in a collective way. In my free time I work as a photographer and I like to document the lives of my fellow trans people.
I come from Guayaquil, Ecuador.
I work with the Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo, an organisation founded in 2015 by transgender Latinx and migrant persons, sex workers and people living with HIV. We are the first community-based organisation led by Spanish-speaking transgender people in the Queens County, New York. We promote trans-specific, trans-inclusive and trans-targeted initiatives aimed at strengthening, empowering and fully exercising our rights, allowing us to express ourselves and decide autonomously about our bodies and gender identities.
What is the situation in the United States at the moment, and how is it specifically affecting our communities?
The reality that we are living is extremely alarming: the trans community is in a distressing mental health and economic crisis. We are being affected, our resources are running out, and this whole situation generated by the COVID-19 pandemic is producing high levels of stress.
With this pandemic, the high indices of poverty and latent precariousness in the trans community are making inequality visible – an inequality that even the system and the State do not want to recognise. Our rights and our lives are in danger. This global health emergency puts us in a real emergency: we continue to be forgotten and discriminated against.
The global pandemic has dramatically and constantly affected the trans sex worker community. The system persists in neglecting us, silencing our voices and making the needs of our community invisible.
How has your activism changed in these extreme circumstances? How are you re-organising your work and reaching out to communities on the ground?
Our organisational and community work took a radical turn, but we have managed to continue connecting our community, adapting to using technology, and creating community spaces and initiatives through our home offices.
We continue to build initiatives for our community with the tools we have at hand: our community groups for LGBTQI people, a support group for people living with HIV, an empowerment group for sex workers and survivors of COVID-19.
This is how our activities continue to provide information and support to our community: we continue to resist in sisterhood. We can count on a network of other organisations and activists in the region, who tell us how they are working to overcome these times of COVID-19 and collective contingency.
We are mobilising to help our community. We are currently providing food, paying phone bills and part of their rent payments to over 189 trans sex workers, migrants and people living with HIV through an emergency fund we created. The #SexWork101Project iniative seeks to alleviate in some way the situation that many of us are facing.
Have you got any advice to share with other LGBTI activists on the ground?
What I can say to my friends and colleagues in the struggle is that we must not let these difficult times of COVID-19 shut down or limit our work: our community needs us now the most. We must continue to stand firm: our community needs to feel that it is not alone in the face of this harsh global contingency. Nothing will extinguish our ever-ending fight from the trenches: let us continue to resist and empower our community, and let us feel that together we will overcome this difficult situation.
#LoveWillNeverBeExtinguished: resistance and sisterhood will keep us firm to overcome these difficult times. Let's help those who need care the most, let's organise as a community and give all the support we can.
As the pandemic continues, how do you take care of yourself?
Let's not neglect ourselves, as there is a community that needs us. Let's use every method to keep ourselves safe in the face of this harsh COVID-19 pandemic. Let's apply meditation in our free time: it helps.
If you could share a positive message with our global communities in this tough time, what would it be?
Let our imagination fly, build new ideas and play with them. Let’s turn them into something concrete that we can use to support our community. These challenging times will help a lot to create new education and learning tools for our community.
Let us resist, let us stand firm. Loss in these times of COVID-19 will be something we will live with every day, but we must be prepared. At this moment nothing is certain, and yet we won’t let this situation stop us from continuing to fight.
The Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo and the trans community in New York recently lost Lorena Borjas due to the complications of Covid-19. We offer our condolences. Lorena was the founder and CEO of your organisation: would you like to share a memory of her and her work?
Lorena was and will be a very important part of my growth as an activist, and a friend. She was always a generous, kind, humble woman. At all times she showed me that, despite the hard blows that life gives us, we must fight for ourselves and for our entire community, for our rights and our existence.
Lorena saved my life. Like many of my fellow Latinas who are forced to flee our countries of origin because of the violence and discrimination, we fight and confront a repressive system that persists and constantly makes us visible and excludes us. We are showing her that we are resisting, that we are fighting together!
If I had her by my side now, I would tell her that…
you will always be the trans mother of the entire Latinx migrant trans community in Queens, New York - forever our barrio butterfly, the woman who taught us so much, our role model for resisting all situations.
My heart is still broken for your departure, but I am sure you will always guide us. In our last conversation you told me, "Whatever happens, you must continue to fight with the girls, as they need guidance and support. We must continue to stand up for our rights.
Thank you for so much love, for so much compassion and love. You will live forever and I will continue with all those goals and dreams that we set for ourselves and that we talked about together.
We are looking for the necessary tools and resources necessary to make the Casa Trans Lorena Borjas come true: the first safe house for those in our community who are in a street situation and in need of a place to sleep.
Do you wish to highlight any initiatives currently underway in your country to provide immediate support to LGBTI people in need?
From our organisation we have created initiatives that demand the attention of our community:
- a mutual help line for trans persons - where they can contact us, ask questions and even exchange educational guides on gender identity
- closed support groups about specific issues
- food donations to our community members
- fundraising to support our community, such as sex workers who have to deal with various situations in these times of COVID-19
- shows and activities on Facebook Live for our communities to relieve their stress
Help is at hand! Check out the Colectivo Intercultural TRANSgrediendo’s website to find out more on the support that they can provide.
ILGA World has also created a developing collaborative list of remote working and wellbeing resources, and started a campaign to spread positive messages for LGBTI communities in this difficult time. Join us!