Leyla Huerta – Féminas Perú: The trans population is so invisible that the simple fact that you exist in your environment already makes you an activist

Washington D.C., April 1, 2021 – On June 7, 2015, the Peruvian organization Féminas was created with the aim of empowering trans women to achieve recognition and respect for their rights. The International Institute on Race, Equality and Human Rights (Race and Equality) spoke with its founder and director, Leyla Huerta, who in addition to explaining the context that inspired the formation of Féminas, also described its future projects and the current situation trans women face in Peru.

Féminas emerged from the empowerment and activism Leyla envisions for trans women. By participating in other organizations that work with this population, Leyla was able to identify that in many cases, the bureaucracy and concentration of responsibilities do not correspond to the needs of women in terms of training and advocacy.

The leader explained, “I started questioning and saw that it made some people uncomfortable. Community activism was not an interesting scene. So, I stayed out of it, not participating in any organization. I continued to grow professionally and had the opportunity to coordinate a big project alongside trans women. With these women I began to create empowerment meetings within the workplace, and that’s how Féminas was formed.”

For Leyla, community activism is fundamental in changing reality and, therefore, the basis of Féminas’ work. “The trans population is so invisible that the simple fact that you exist in your environment already makes you an activist. The mere fact of existing without saying anything, just your presence in a neighborhood, begins to question the existence of gender diversity.”

The impact of COVID and their Plans

The COVID-19 pandemic made 2020 a year full of challenges for Féminas, both in its organizational processes and advocacy actions. In addition, the abrupt removal of President Martín Vizcarra, meant a break in the discourse of support for the trans population, where previously the presidency and key institutions handled trans populations’ political recognition and guarantee of rights.

Peru does not have a Gender Identity Law, therefore name change is only possible through a judicial recourse, a process that can be very long and expensive. With COVID-19, the possibility of carrying out this process online opened, but trans people have encountered numerous limitations, such as the lack of instruction manuals that clearly explain procedural steps. For this reason, Leyla points out that the pandemic is delaying the objective of accumulating a high number of name change petitions and generating jurisprudence in this process.

A positive aspect is that the pandemic has forced the State to update its information and registration systems. “A girl changes her name now and everything is updated, (because) everything is online. The work that had to be done for this, took time so we do not have to go through all the institutions to change the name on all the documents. It is a great advantage for those who have been able to change their names,” Leyla explains.

A double burden

In the presence of COVID, Féminas provides humanitarian aid to trans women, which involves, in addition to regular meetings, a process of aid planning, identification of beneficiaries, dissemination on social networks, and production of informative videos. And while these actions respond to their vision as an organization, they cannot deny that it implies greater effort, and labor, which makes them reflect on the double burden that transgender people face as a result of their gender expression and gender identity.

“We say that ‘with everything that cis people experience politically, imagine how it is for trans people.’ Because we too are affected by the government, a political landscape where hate speech and the identity of people are used to generate shows and people don’t realize it. People are so consumed by capitalism that they don’t realize they are following this hate speech.”

Regarding the dismissal of Martín Vizcarra on November 10, 2020, Leyla claims it signifies a “lost battle” in the struggle for the recognition and guarantee of rights of trans people. Leyla explains, “Vicarra’s government tried to have a very inclusive vision. Unfortunately, it was also evident that much more is still lacking, but interesting things have occurred. The topic of “pico y género” and ministers discussing gender identity and gender expression, I believe has been very important.”

Féminas recognizes the Ministry of Women and Vulnerable Populations, the Ministry of Social Inclusion, and the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights as partners in the struggle. Leyla insures that within these Ministries there are people who have helped bring several changes, but due to the political crisis, this support was interrupted by a change in officials.

 What they want in the future

In the last five years, Féminas has managed to be in the Violence Against Women Plan, gotten trans women to be mentioned for the first time in a technical norm, and sought to continue name change trials to generate jurisprudence. Above all, it has fostered trust among the trans community. The latter is a point that Leyla considers fundamental, especially given the history the trans community has endured in Peru.

Leyla knows that to continue achieving these results as well as others, it is necessary to promote training processes and professionalization, which they were able to work on during the quarantine enforced by the COVID-19 pandemic. She states, “I want stability for Féminas, I see Féminas that way. An institution where we can provide different services, where we can have a research clinic, as an institution that can channel support for trans women and not lose that theme of idealism.”

The director stresses that in this process of growth they do not want to lose sight of community activism and always give prominence to women. “To continue at the community level (…), to be able to professionalize, contribute and improve the status of trans women, however it must be for trans women themselves and not only to develop the space where they will be. We are not going to achieve this change alone, with one or two people, but rather all together we can advance the conditions of the population,” Leyla reaffirms. She also mentions the political arena, as she considers it an important space for achieving sustainable change.

Race and Equality recognizes the importance of the work carried out by organizations such as Féminas in favor of trans people. We see with particular attention that the health emergency generated by COVID-19 during 2020, exacerbated many challenges. However, during this time the LGBTI community has learned many lessons, continuing to resist, heal and support each other.

Within this context, Race and Equality recognizes the different types of violence that LGBTI people endure, its diverse intersections with identity and sexuality, and the influences specific country contexts play. For this reason, we reiterate our support and accompaniment to organizations, like Féminas, who struggle every day to achieve the recognition of diverse gender expressions and gender identities.

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