When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Mockery Or Murder: The Horrors Of Being Transgender In Colombia

Chased from their homes and communities, many transgender women in Colombia seek refuge in a four-block area in Santa Fe, in downtown Bogotá.

The LGBT Pride Parade held in Bogotá, Colombia on June 2015
The LGBT Pride Parade held in Bogotá, Colombia on June 2015
William Martínez

BOGOTA — Prejudice can kill. A group of seven transsexual friends who moved to Bogotá to start a new life could testify to that, or at least the three who survived the process, albeit just barely.

All are victims of violence and persecution for changing their gender. One of the survivors, Olimpo, was stabbed eight times and is now confined to a wheelchair. She was attacked for calling someone a "cutie" (tan lindo ese pollo!). Another was stabbed by a group of homophobes and will be limping for the rest of her life.

A third woman, Piola, says she had to move when paramilitaries told her she had eight days to leave her house in Chinchiná (Caldas department) for being a "faggot." Early the next day, her mother took her to the bus station to travel to Medellín, the Colombian city with the most murders of transgender women. "They see us as men disguised as women, which is why they are even more violent," says Piola.

From there she fled to Bogotá, where it's said that people are free to be openly gay, or to work in prostitution. Piola is just one of many transgender women who end up in the capital after being harassed, threatened and pushed out of other Colombian cities.

At least 800 gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people were murdered in Colombia between 2006 and 2014. Most of these hate crimes targeted transgender women, of whom 30 were killed between 2013-14. Most of them were prostitutes working in the capital, particularly in the Santa Fe area, in the city center.

Because of their presence and persistence, transsexuals have won themselves a space in the city and earned some recognition as women. "What will it be madam?" you might even hear some of the area's shopkeepers ask them quite naturally. The space, though, is a limited one — just a four-block area — and even there women like Piola sometimes fall victim to violence.

Piola is one of 14 women who participated in a joint project carried out by the University of Los Andes School of Government and Parces, a sex worker watchdog group. The particpants share a common story: after being displaced from various village districts, they all ended up confined to this particular corner of Bogotá,

Many years of their lives have passed in Santa Fe, a downtown area between 19th and 24th streets and 14th (Caracas) and 18th avenues. Here the women are not gawked at or scrutinized as freak characters. But they do have to be wary of police harassment and vigilantes engaged in "social cleansing." Project researchers found that police, simply for the sake of amusement, repeatedly force transgender women to undress and run around the street.

Nearly half of the transgender participants in the project claim that police have on occasion asked for sex in exchange for not arresting them, and 73% say they've been beaten by police at least once. The women also worry about paramilitaries, who are sometimes present on and around 24th street. They say their only defense is to cut themselves and then threaten to give their attackers AIDS.

One of the goals of the project was to make the women — some of whom had never stepped outside Santa Fe — more visible in other parts of the city. And so at one point, the women travelled to Zona T in northern Bogotá.

They made the trip during rush hour, wearing veils and carrying signs reading "I am more than just Santa Fe." On the bus, passengers shot them disgusted glances. The women got off the bus at 85th street, then walked to the upmarket Andino shopping center. There they took off their veils and raised their signs before deciding to end their visit with a meal in one of the mall's restaurants. As they sat down, the dining area was drained of customers.

That kind of obvious discrimination is why the women prefer sticking to Santa Fe, despite the dangers they face there; and despite the fear, which is constant, they say, coursing through their bodies like blood.

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

Migrant Lives

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

An orchid rehabilitation project is turning a small Mexican community into a tourist magnet — and attracting far-flung locals back to their hometown.

They Migrated From Chiapas When Opportunities Dried Up, Orchids Brought Them Home

Marcos Aguilar Pérez takes care of orchids rescued from the rainforest in his backyard in Santa Rita Las Flores, Mapastepec, Chiapas, Mexico.

Adriana Alcázar González/GPJ Mexico
Adriana Alcázar González

MAPASTEPEC — Sweat cascades down Candelaria Salas Gómez’s forehead as she separates the bulbs of one of the orchids she and the other members of the Santa Rita Las Flores Community Ecotourism group have rescued from the rainforest. The group houses and protects over 1,000 orchids recovered from El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve, in the southeastern Mexican state of Chiapas, after powerful storms.

“When the storms and heavy rains end, we climb to the vicinity of the mountains and collect the orchids that have fallen from the trees. We bring them to Santa Rita, care for them, and build their strength to reintegrate them into the reserve later,” says Salas Gómez, 32, as she attaches an orchid to a clay base to help it recover.

Like magnets, the orchids of Santa Rita have exerted a pull on those who have migrated from the area due to lack of opportunity. After years away from home, Salas Gómez was one of those who returned, attracted by the community venture to rescue these flowers and exhibit them as a tourist attraction, which provides residents with an adequate income.

Keep reading...Show less

The latest