October 4, 2017 at 7:03 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Transgender woman from Guatemala granted asylum in U.S.

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A transgender woman from Guatemala has received asylum in the U.S. (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

A judge on Tuesday granted asylum to a transgender woman who fled persecution in Guatemala.

The trans woman — who the Southern Poverty Law Center represents — in a court filing said she moved to Guatemala City, the country’s capital and largest city, when she was 17-years-old to “avoid further bullying, harassment and discrimination” she said she experienced in her hometown.

The trans woman — who the Southern Poverty Law Center has not identified by name — said the laboratory for which she worked after moving to Guatemala City fired her because of her sexual orientation.

She started working with a Guatemalan trans advocacy group and said she “experimented with dressing as a woman” a year after moving to Guatemala City. The trans woman said she began injecting herself with hormones and took birth control pills in order to begin her transition, but she stopped because of the side effects.

The trans woman said two men who she believed were with “associated with a drug cartel” beat her on Aug. 5, 2015, after she refused to “perform sexual favors for their customers.” She said another drug dealer on Sept. 14, 2016, threatened to kill her outside of a restaurant after she refused to extort money from local businesses.

The trans woman on Oct. 15, 2016, took a bus from Guatemala to neighboring Mexico. She then rode on trains towards the U.S., noting she did “not dress as a woman and tried not to look effeminate” for her safety.

She crossed from Mexico into the U.S. last December and turned herself in to U.S. Border Patrol. The trans woman has been at the Stewart Detention Center, a male detention center in Lumpkin, Ga., the Corrections Corporation of America operates under contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Although I am currently in detention, I already feel safer in the United States of America because I am far away from the threat in Guatemala,” she said in her court filing. “I fear that they would kill me if I returned to Guatemala.”

Southern Poverty Law Center Deputy Legal Director David Dinielli on Tuesday in a statement described Guatemala as a “country widely recognized as hostile to LGBT people.”

“We’re glad the judge saw that our client’s life was at serious risk if she were to return,” he added.

Activists with whom the Washington Blade spoke in Guatemala City in January said violence and discrimination based on gender identity remains commonplace in the Central American country that borders Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras and Belize. They also said police officers either do not investigate allegations of anti-trans violence or are among those who carry it out.

The trans woman in a separate court filing said Guatemalan police “targeted” her because she was a sex worker. She also said police officers forced her to have oral and anal sex with them at least five times.

“Sometimes I was forced to have sex with more than one officer at a time,” she said. “They used me without warmth and without mercy.”

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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