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LGBTQ Plus

LGBTQ+ Seniors In Mexico: Between Aging, Identity And Isolation

Growing old in Mexico brings uncertainty, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. However, being LGBTQ+ brings additional challenges, which the pandemic accentuated.

Mexico pride

People gather for a pride parade in Queretaro, Mexico

Georgina G. Alvarez

MEXICO CITY — Mario is 69 years old. He found a new sense of peace 13 years ago, materialized in a birth certificate that finally reflected a truth he had always known but struggled to put into words: "I am a trans man."

“I feel like a survivor of many things," he says. "Believe me that the new life challenges no longer harm me. I think that I have already gone through all the ugly things of life, all the ignorance, all the pain, the sadness, and everything else. For me what follows is to say: ‘of course I can!’.”


Mario grew up in a working-class neighborhood in Mexico City, in an environment in which gay men and trans women were called offensive names. Mario did not have access to sexual education that may have allowed him to put his identity into words. But it was the dreams of his childhood that helped him.

“I dreamed that when I woke up my body would be that of a man, a boy,” he remembers.

Hiding his own gender identity

In the midst of that environment and without information, Mario lived in silence and kept his own gender identity confined for more than 50 years.

“There were no lesbian groups, there were no trans men groups, there was nothing. Honestly, I felt more sure each time, so I said: ‘If you don't move, then stay there, isolated, go scream in a corner and die of sadness’. And no, I put my sadness aside a little and said: 'Let's move forward, only forward'.”

But everything changed the day that he bumped into Diana, a 59-year-old engineer who had also experienced the same type of isolation since she was a child. It happened under the clock at the Balderas station of the Mexico City metro.

Diana remembers that her time of isolation, which lasted until college, was extreme and terrible. So was the year and a half of harassment, ridiculing and discrimination she faced in one of her workplaces after sharing her experience as a trans woman and allowing herself, after so long, to be herself.

M and D

Mario and Diana sit down for an interview with Agencia Presentes

Agencia Presentes

Hit harder by the pandemic

Mario and Diana resisted those times of confinement.

After meeting in that subway station they started dating, fell in love, and — 13 years ago — they got married. Since then, their visibility and activism has been key in guaranteeing the legal recognition of the identity of adult transgender people in Mexico City.

We were working for our mental health. We were working to distract ourselves.

Mario jokingly says: “I am the grandfather of all the trans boys and girls who feel that their life is slipping away at 18… Recovering 56 years, a whole life, that is a great challenge, it is not easy at all.”

Diana and Mario took a long time to come out of the closet because they lacked information and referents. And because they wanted to keep their jobs.

In Mexico, 4 out of 10 older adults face poverty. At the same time, discrimination against trans people contributes to job insecurity and the pandemic has exacerbated the problem even more. According to data from a survey on the effects of the pandemic on the LGBTQ+ population in Mexico, 70% of trans women and 60% of trans men who responded lost income during the first year of the pandemic.

Despite the double difficulties of being older adults and trans, Mario and Diana feel lucky: "In a way, being transsexuals didn't go so badly for us, because at least we have food on our plates and a place to live.”

During the lockdowns, Mario and Diana allowed themselves to work on a personal project in the mountains of Hidalgo, north of Mexico City: the construction of their cabin.

“That kept us alive, that is, productive, even though we were not working for money. We were working for our mental health. We were working to distract ourselves. For many it was a waste of time, but for us it kept us on earth, it kept us alive.”

HIV to COVID-19

During the lockdown, going back to the closet, or staying in the closet, was not an unknown strategy for LGBTQ+ people. It was a resource against violence.

According to the National Survey on Discrimination based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (ENDOSIG, 2018) prepared by Conapred, 92% of LGBTQ+ people in Mexico hid their sexual orientation or gender identity at an early age due to the discrimination they face in different spaces.

The COVID pandemic delayed and reduced the response, care, prevention, and treatment for HIV, cancer, diabetes, and mental health illnesses, amongst others.

According to the Cero Desabasto platform, which monitors the right to health treatments in Mexico, between 2019 and 2020, HIV was the fourth disease with the highest number of reports due to lack of available medication. In addition, lockdowns disrupted HIV testing, leading to fewer diagnoses and at the same time a drop in initiating treatment initiation. According to UNAIDS, 1 in 4 people living with HIV had problems accessing their treatment in 2020.

In Mexico there are 40 government programs targeting the elderly, which focus on covering health, economic and training needs, and "none of these can be classified as long-term care," according to research by Coneval. Furthermore, none of the programs explicitly mention LGBTQ+ people or concrete actions to cover their specific needs.

Mexico City hosts the only three clinics in the entire country that provide free hormonal treatment to trans people. During the first year of the pandemic, users of this service reported delays in the supply of testosterone and estrogen on social networks, as well as follow-up appointments.

Diana was one of those affected by this, and her mental health was also compromised.

*Discover the full multimedia special (in Spanish) at Agencia Presentes.

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Geopolitics

Inside Putin's Deal For Iranian Drones

Outgunned by Ukraine's Turkish-made Bayraktar drones, Russia has reportedly started importing armed drones from Iran, which may have explained Vladimir Putin's recent visit to Tehran, which is looking to flex its muscles internationally. But it could prove to be a dangerous turning point in the war.

At an underground drone base, in an unknown location in Iran

Christine Kensche

The satellite images show a hangar. The rough outlines of two geometric shapes are visible — a triangle and an elongated object with wide wings. According to intelligence information from the United States, this is the Kashan airfield south of Tehran, where Iran is training its regional militias.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

The geometric objects are drones: the Shahed-191 and the Shahed-129, both considered capable of carrying weapons. Their name translates to martyr. According to U.S. information, the picture also shows a transport vehicle for visitors from Russia. If what the White House recently said is true, the "martyr" drones could soon be circling Ukraine, controlled remotely by Russian soldiers.

Tehran's drone army

According to national security adviser Jake Sullivan, Iran wants to deliver "several hundred" drones to Russia and train Russian soldiers on the devices. Training may have already begun, Sullivan said. In June, Russian delegations traveled to the Iranian airfield twice. Russian President Vladimir Putin was in Tehran in person on Tuesday.

It's a turning point for Iran as an international arms dealer.

"This is a significant turning point for Iran as an international arms dealer," says Israeli drone expert Seth Frantzman, who has published a book on the subject (Drone Wars). So far, outside the circle of its allies in the region, Tehran has only sold its technology to Venezuela and built a drone factory in Tajikistan. "The deal with the world power Russia finally makes Iran an international player in the drone business, with its influence reaching as far as Europe."

In terms of technology and trade, the world's drone powers are the U.S., Israel, China and, by some margin, Turkey. Indeed, the Turkish-designed Bayraktar drones are deployed by Ukraine against Russia, which initially gave Kyiv important strategic successes.

There are two key reasons why Russia is now apparently buying from Iran: its own drones cannot keep up. And Iran's drones are technically less sophisticated than those of Western competitors. But they do the job – and are quicker and cheaper to make. Even Iran's nemesis Israel recognizes the powerful potential of Tehran's drone army.

"Iran has massively upgraded its drone program in recent years," says Frantzman. The Shiite regime introduces new types of drones almost every week. According to information from the Israeli army, Iran has a complete production chain, from missiles to navigation systems. The parts are often copied — for example, from U.S. drones that Iran shot down in the past. It now has a variety of different series and types — from unarmed reconnaissance devices to combat drones and those called kamikaze drones (small unmanned aerial vehicles with explosive charges that ram their target). The damage Iranian technology can do has been demonstrated by the regime's devastating attacks in recent years.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei receiving Russian President Vladimir Putin in the presence of his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi (right) in Tehran

Iranian Supreme Leader's Office/ZUMA

Attacks by Iranian drones

Iran's arsenal of remotely piloted aircraft stretches from Lebanon, Syria and Iraq to the Gulf and Yemen. The technology is used by Iranian allies — by Hezbollah and Hamas against Israel, by Yemen's Huthis against Saudi Arabia, by Shiite militias against the U.S. Army. Or, indeed, by Iran itself.

The "Pearl Harbor" of the drone war happened three years ago: Iran used drones and rockets to attack the Abqaiq refinery of the world's largest oil company Aramco in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi air defenses were powerless. The attack shut down Saudi Arabia's oil exports for several months. Global oil production collapsed by six percent.

Iranian drones were used in the last Gaza war.

Since then, Iran has systematically relied on weapons. Drones are said to be responsible for at least five attacks on U.S. bases in Syria and Iraq in May and June last year. Iranian drone technology also played a role in the last Gaza war. Hamas not only fired 4,000 rockets at Israel last May. It also deployed a new explosive-laden drone.

Last year, Iranian drone attacks claimed human lives for the first time: Kamikaze drones attacked the Mercer Street oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world's most strategically important choke points between the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. Two crew members died, including the captain. Then, in the spring, drones attacked tankers and Abu Dhabi airport. Three people lost their lives. The Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are supplied with weapons and technology by Iran, said they were responsible for the attack on the U.A.E.

A military unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV or drone) launched from an Iranian navy vessel in the Indian ocean

Iranian Army Office/ZUMA

No war is won by drones alone

There is no precise information on exactly which drones Russia could acquire. The types shown by the U.S. on the satellite images are among Iran's most important reconnaissance and combat drones. The Shahed-129 is the country's oldest combat drone. It can stay in the air for up to 24 hours and can be armed with eight guided missiles. Also known as the Saegheh (Thunderbolt), the Shahed-191 is a combat drone whose specialty is great mobility. It can be mounted on the back of a truck and launched while the vehicle is in motion.

Kamikaze drones are easier and cheaper to produce.

This combat drone, which can be equipped with two remote-controlled anti-tank missiles, is therefore extremely flexible. However, it is doubtful that Iran can actually deliver hundreds of these types in a hurry. A deal with Russia is therefore likely to include kamikaze drones, which are easier and cheaper to produce.

If Russia were to use Iranian drones in the near future, it would not be a turning point in the Ukraine war, says expert Frantzman: "You don't win a war with drones." However, Russia could use them to damage Ukraine's strategic infrastructure comparatively cheaply, without having to put expensive war equipment at risk.

And another target could become the focus of Iranian drones — Western war equipment, such as the HIMARS multiple rocket launchers, which the U.S. supplied to Ukraine and which play a central role in defense against Russia.

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