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Mexico City shelter offers second chance for transgender residents

Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro named after murdered trans sex worker

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Kenia Cuevas, founder of Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro, a shelter for transgender people in Mexico City (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MEXICO CITY — Alcohol and drugs were the only things that allowed Michel Ríos, 33, to cope with her fears and traumas when she engaged in sex work or tried to face her life as a person with a disability.

Ríos is a transgender woman from Mexico’s Veracruz state who lost one of her legs when she was seven and earned her family’s contempt from the moment she assumed a non-heteronormative sexual orientation and gender identity. Ríos was forced to leave home at 15 and began to earn a living on the streets, alone.

She began to seek help after several years.

Ríos found Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro, a shelter in Mexico City that Casa de las Muñecas Tiresias, a local advocacy group, runs. She first arrived with the intention of becoming sober through an Alcoholics Anonymous program, but she ended up staying to rebuild her life.

Shelter named in honor of murdered trans sex worker

Kenia Cuevas, a renowned LGBTQ rights activist, founded Casa de las Muñecas after she witnessed the murder of her best friend, Paola Buenrostro, in December 2016 while they were both engaged in sex work. That tragic event was the final straw that motivated her to fight for her community.

Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro opened its doors in January 2020.

“The mission of our organization is that those people who we welcome know their rights, that they can have a decent life, that they can understand life processes and we can rescue them from situations of vulnerability, of abandonment, when they believe that everything has been lost,” said Cuevas during an exclusive interview with the Los Angeles Blade via Zoom.

International News Editor Michael K. Lavers visited the shelter on Saturday and met with Cuevas.

“In short, what we do is create living conditions in accordance with human rights,” said Cuevas. “We have managed to give visibility to all the problems that trans people face on a day-to-day basis and of which society was not aware.”

Casa de las Muñecas has offices in Mexico City and in Mexico, Nayarit, Morelos and Guerrero states. It has a team of professionals who carry out a variety of services for trans people that includes support for legally changing their identity, legal advice and education workshops.

“We are also entering prisons to provide legal literacy to transgender people, workshops on culture, sports, addictions,” said Cuevas. “When they are released we then rescue them and take them to the home to continue their social reintegration.”

Casa de las Muñecas’ Mexico City shelter is named in honor of Buenrostro. Casa de las Muñecas also plans to open two additional shelters — one in the Mexican capital and another in Mexico state.

Casa de las Muñecas served 1,800 people in its first year of operation, which was 2018. The organization, according to Cuevas, had worked with upwards of 10,000 people last year.

Ríos arrived in July 2020 amid the pandemic. She said the shelter and its residents are now her family, because she has not seen her biological relatives since 2007.

“It is my home, a refuge from discrimination, violence, prostitution, drugs and alcohol,” Ríos told the Blade. “Staying here gives people the opportunity to grow, to achieve their dreams. It tells you that you can still dream. I am 41-years-old and I am dreaming. I am learning to dream here. The house has opened my horizons, it has given me the opportunity to be a different person.”

Ríos’ goal at the shelter is to learn the skills that will allow her to reintegrate into society. Ríos said she also hopes to help other people who may be in the same situation in which she was before she arrived.

“My goal is to finish my ‘prepa’ (high school diploma) and make a career for myself,” said Ríos, who hopes to become a designer.

This educational preparation is part of an intervention strategy that Casa de las Muñecas created in July 2020 to eliminate education disparities among the trans community.

“We do workshops aimed at economic autonomy, connecting them to the labor force,” said Cuevas. “It also allows for psychological support, access to health care, treatment for HIV or hormones, as well as the right to identity, either in their documents or the change of identity.”

Two residents of Casa Refugio Paola Buenrostro, a shelter for transgender people in Mexico City, on July 17, 2021. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Victoria Alejandra Arias, 33, a trans woman who is also from Veracruz state, learned while at the shelter that she is living with HIV. She was diagnosed at the shelter and now receives treatment.

Arias abused alcohol and drugs and was a sex worker.

She said her now ex-partner physically and emotionally abused her. He threatened and blackmailed Arias before they finally ended up in jail.

Arias recalled she was in a desperate physical and mental state when a friend brought her to the shelter on Jan. 7. She has found purpose in her life after less than five months.

“We have several workshops here, we go out to do exercises,” Arias told the Blade. “My life has changed in every way. I have improved in the physical sense because I got too thin. I used crack, a very addictive drug, and it really destroys people. My appearance is improving little by little. I know that I am on my way.”

“Women already have a profession because of all this support,” added Cuevas. “It will be easier for them to integrate themselves into society because they can come out (of here) a little more educated, empowered and know their rights and responsibilities.”

More than 20 people were living in the shelter when Cuevas spoke with the Blade, with 50 names on a waiting list. Canela and Leslie, two rescue dogs, also live at the shelter.

The Mexico City government pays the shelter’s rent and utilities, but donations that mostly come through social networks and people who provide furniture and other items support it. Cuevas donates around 70 percent of her salary.

“Our day at the house starts at 6 in the morning,” said Arias. “We make the bed, we bathe, we put on makeup and we go to our workshops, because part of this place’s goal is to re-educate ourselves.”

Ríos told the Blade the shelter offers English, theater, cosmetology, mathematics, Spanish, science and acting workshops.

“I’ve already imitated Paquita la del Barrio because I look a lot like her physically,” she said. “My favorite workshop is the theater — especially comedy — one because it goes great with my personality. The experience of acting is very beautiful. I have a lot of fun.”

Ríos said she and other workshop participants are preparing to premiere a play in December. She told the Blade they also perform at street festivals and in prisons.

Cuevas said she wants to open a headquarters for Casa de las Muñecas and a shelter in each of Mexico’s 32 states. Cuevas added she would like to expand her work throughout the rest of Latin America.

She said her greatest achievement is the gratitude and happy faces of those who have passed through the shelter.

“Thanks to this place I have regained my dignity,” said Ríos. “I want to live and, despite my disability and all the physical problems, I don’t let myself be defeated and I keep going.”

Arias, meanwhile, hopes to become a stylist “because I want to have a job.”

“I would like to finish my studies,” she said. “I see all those goals closer and stronger now and all that is for my life here. My greatest success is being clean and having goals in my life.” 

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Budapest Pride takes place amid Hungary LGBTQ rights crackdown

City’s mayor among parade participants

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Two participants in the Budapest Pride parade that took place in Budapest, Hungary, on July 25, 2021. (Courtesy photo)

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Thousands of people attended a Pride parade in the Hungarian capital of Budapest on Saturday that took place against the backdrop of the government’s ongoing efforts to curtail LGBTQ rights.

Budapest Mayor Gergely Karacsony, who is challenging Prime Minister Viktor Orbán in next year’s presidential election, is among those who participated in the Budapest Pride parade. Event organizers said upwards of 30,000 people took part.

“There were a lot of supporters and allies, lots of young people and some older people,” one Budapest Pride participant told the Los Angeles Blade.

The participant said someone shouted an anti-gay slur at them and their friends as they walked home while holding a rainbow flag. They said the parade was nevertheless peaceful.

“The mood was more like a protest, solidarity and marching for equal rights than a party,” they told the Blade. “I didn’t see drag queens and it felt a bit muted, but I’m happy we had such a peaceful and fun Pride.”

Participants in the Budapest Pride parade that took place in Budapest, Hungary, on July 25, 2021. (Courtesy photo) 

Budapest Pride took place less than a week after Prime Minister Viktor Orbán announced he wants to hold a referendum on a new law that bans the promotion of homosexuality and sex-reassignment surgery to minors in the country.

The law took effect on July 8. The European Commission a week later announced it would take legal action against Hungary.

Hungarian lawmakers late last year amended the country’s constitution to define family as “based on marriage and the parent-child relation” with “the mother is a woman, the father a man” and effectively banned same-sex couples from adopting children. The Hungarian Parliament in April 2020 approved a bill that bans transgender and intersex people from legally changing their gender.

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World

Puerto Rico activists condemn police raid on LGBTQ-friendly bar

More than 20 officers descended on Loverbar near the University of Puerto Rico

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Loverbar (Photo via Twitter)

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Activists in Puerto Rico have condemned a police raid on an LGBTQ-friendly bar that took place on Thursday night.

Local media reports indicate more than 20 officers with the San Juan Municipal Police Department entered Loverbar, which is near the campus of the University of Puerto Rico, at around 11 p.m.

A video posted to social media shows that some of the officers who entered the bar were armed with what appear to be shot guns.

Media reports cite local authorities who said Loverbar did not have the necessary permits to operate as a bar, and the officers arrived there to fine them. San Juan Mayor Miguel Romero in a statement said officers fined Loverbar and seven other businesses in the city on Thursday for either not having the necessary permits or excessive noise.

“The Municipal Police of San Juan led by Miguel Romero intervened last night with a queer bar,” tweeted Pedro Julio Serrano, founder of Puerto Rico Para [email protected], a Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group. “This reminds us of a time when LGBTQI+ people were prosecuted, criminalized and villified.”

“We won’t tolerate homophobia and transphobia in San Juan,” added Serrano.

Comité Amplio Para la Búsqueda de Equidad (CABE), another Puerto Rican LGBTQ advocacy group, has called for an “exhaustive and independent investigation into the excessive use of force and intimidation by the Municipal Police of San Juan last night” at Loverbar.

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Argentina becomes first Latin America country to issue non-binary IDs

Country remains at forefront of trans, gender non-conforming rights

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(Photo by Bigstock)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina on Wednesday became the first country in Latin America to issue ID cards that are specifically for non-binary people.

President Alberto Fernández issued a decree that allows non-binary Argentines to choose an “X” gender marker on their National Identity Document or DNI.

“The recognition of the gender identity of people who identify themselves outside gender binary norms is a big advance for the entire society, because it puts to an end the mandatory imposition of ‘male’ or ‘female’ categories,” reads Fernández’s decree. “The decree implements the rights recognized under the Gender Identity Law, interpreting its scope beyond binaryism.”

The Gender Rights Law that took effect in 2012, among other things, allows Argentines to legally change their gender without medical intervention. Fernández last September signed a decree that requires at least 1 percent of all jobs in the country’s public sector to go to transgender people.

Marcela Romero, a Buenos Aires-based trans activist who is also a member of REDLACTRANS (The Latin America and Caribbean Network of Transgender People) Executive Board, in a statement said the decree “once again positions Argentina” as a world leader in extending rights to gender non-conforming people.

Mariano Ruiz, another Argentine LGBTQ rights activist, echoed Romero.

“The recognition of the identity of non-binary people by the State leaves no doubt about the interpretation of the Gender Identity Law,” Ruiz told the Los Angeles Blade on Wednesday.

Ruiz also noted the public sector employment law is named after two trans activists — Diana Sacayán, who was killed in 2016, and Lohana Berlina, who died in 2012.

“Once again and after the recent approval of the Diana Sacayán-Lohana Berlina Labor Quota Law, the Argentine government has shown its firm commitment to sexual and gender diversity and sets the course for where the Latin America region should go,” said Ruiz. “We hope that this is only the beginning and we will soon have a new law against discriminatory acts, a comprehensive law for trans people and a new law for HIV and viral hepatitis.”

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