Venus Caballero, executive director of the Organization of Transgender People of Nicaragua (ODETRANS), noted to the Washington Blade during an interview at her office in the Nicaraguan capital of Managua that her organization has 30 active members across the country.
She said ODETRANS members are working in the cities of Masaya, León, Chinindega, Chontales and Orotal. Caballero, who also represents the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Trans People (REDLACTRANS) in Nicaragua, told the Blade that ODETRANS has representatives in each of the country’s 15 departments in spite of the fact the organization’s only office is in Managua.
“We have trans leaders that are doing work in each one of these departments,” said Caballero.
Caballero said ODETRANS’ other objectives include teaching trans Nicaraguans how advocate for their rights, referring to a recent meeting in the northern part of the country that focused on empowering “girls about their human rights, self-care and self-esteem.” She told the Blade that ODETRANS also encourages trans Nicaraguans to become involved in the country’s political process.
Government ‘not against’ LGBT rights
The Nicaraguan government in 2009 created the Special Ombudsman for Sexual Diversity position within its Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman. The country’s Health Ministry in 2014 issued a resolution that bans discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation in health care.
Caballero noted Vice President Rosario Murillo, who is married to President Daniel Ortega of the ruling National Liberation Sandinista Front, recently appeared on Nicaraguan television with a trans woman who had graduated from a prominent university with a communications degree. Caballero described Murillo’s decision to highlight the trans university graduate as a “real paradox” because she remains unemployed.
“She (Murillo) can say that okay, we are not against the issue (of trans rights), but we haven’t done anything to support the issue,” said Caballero.
Caballero also noted Ortega and Murillo — whose government is becoming increasingly authoritarian — describe Nicaragua as a “Christian, socialist and solidarity” country. The Roman Catholic Church and evangelicals also have significant influence over Nicaraguan politicians.
“We are a secular country,” said Caballero. “But our government professes a religion.”
Caballero further stressed discrimination based on gender identity remains commonplace in Nicaragua, even though ODETRANS and other advocacy groups continue to advocate for a comprehensive trans rights law and local nondiscrimination ordinances.
She said rates of anti-trans hate crimes and violence are lower in Nicaragua than in neighboring Honduras and other Central American countries that include El Salvador and Guatemala. Caballero nevertheless said officers with the National Police frequently harass and mistreat trans women who are in their custody.
“It is very hard to sensitize a government entity that is machista, that is patriarchal,” she said. “There is no respect on the part of the authorities.”
Caballero told the Blade she is not afraid to leave her home or “walk down the street” because she is a trans woman. She said she has experienced unwanted touching from men on public buses, men shouting at her from their cars as she walks on the sidewalk and other forms of harassment.
“They have this concept of machismo; they have this concept of entrenched religion and in some way they feel they have the right to discriminate against trans women,” said Caballero.
Caballero, who has a journalism degree, told the Blade that only a handful of the estimated 7,000 trans people who live in Nicaragua have graduated from a university. She further pointed out many trans Nicaraguans do not have access to education because of their gender identity.
She also said trans Nicaraguans are at increased risk for HIV.
“A trans woman is viewed badly in society,” said Caballero. “Here there are bad stereotypes that have formed over many years. Trans women are viewed as drunks, as promiscuous, as alcoholics, as violent. Everything negative that society can invent is used against us in our community.”
‘I love my country’
Caballero spoke with the Blade less than two months after the Inter-American Court of Human Rights issued a landmark ruling that recognizes same-sex marriage and trans rights.
The decision is legally binding in Nicaragua and the other countries that recognize the American Convention on Human Rights the Inter-American Court of Human Rights enforces. The Nicaraguan government has yet to publicly respond to the ruling.
Caballero described the ruling as “an advance on the issue of human rights,” but acknowledged it has “its limitations” in Nicaragua.
She noted to the Blade that activists’ reaction to it has been muted because of concerns over the government’s “political will” to advance LGBT-specific issues. Caballero added activists also want to keep their lines of communication with the government open.
“We have allies inside the government, but allies that also have their limitations,” she told the Blade. “They cannot openly declare themselves in favor of the LGBT community because we already know the church is there.”
Caballero acknowledged trans, gay, lesbian and bisexual Nicaraguans continue to face challenges. She nevertheless added she remains hopeful about the country’s future and its LGBT rights movement.
“I love my country and I am optimistic in the sense that we have to cultivate new leaders,” said Caballero, specifically referring to the Nicaraguan LGBT community. “It is happening.”