Refugee Stories

Meet five LGBTIQ+ individuals from Central America who have found safety, acceptance and community in their new homes

What if you were forced to flee because of who you are or who you loved? For millions of LGBTIQ+ individuals, this is the reality they face. In many countries around the world, those who are in same-sex relationships or who identify as transgender or non-binary are targeted, persecuted and attacked. Many are forced to make the difficult decision to flee their homes in order to protect their lives and loved ones. This is especially the case for LGBTIQ+ individuals in the North of Central America — El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras — where transphobia and homophobia are common.

Thankfully, there is hope for LGBTIQ+ people in these situations. Countries that take in LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum seekers can offer protection, support and compassion during their darkest moments. From shelter and livelihood training to psychological support, these communities are welcoming displaced people with open arms. 

Today, for International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia, meet five individuals who were forced to flee their homes because of their sexuality or gender identities who have now found safety and acceptance in their new communities. 

Andrea

andrea looking out the window

Andrea is a 30-year-old transgender woman currently living in a rural community in El Salvador. She originally lived in San Salvador with her family but they were not accepting of her identity when she came out as transgender. Eventually, she was forced to flee when a local gang threatened her life. 

El Salvador is one of the most dangerous countries for members of the LGBTIQ+ community, with gang violence often forcing individuals to become internally displaced or refugees. After fleeing her home, Andrea was taken in by the family of another transgender woman and she now lives with them in a rural town in El Salvador. Together, Andrea and her friend run a small business selling pupusas and other snack foods.

Although she has found safety and acceptance, Andrea still thinks of her family back home, ​​"Perhaps my life would have been different if I'd had the support of my family.” 

Dayanna & Joss

portrait of dayanna and joss

Dayanna and Joss were both forced to flee their homes in El Salvador when their safety was threatened. They both identify as transgender women and could no longer live safely in their communities while staying true to who they are. Dayanna (left) fled due to increasing transphobia in El Salvador and after she began receiving threats from a local gang. Similarly, Joss was forced to flee when she began receiving death threats. 

In hopes of finding safety, Dayanna and Joss both fled to Mexico where they applied for asylum in the United States. Although they have both found a welcoming community in Mexico, they hope they can begin rebuilding their lives in the U.S. 

“In El Salvador, there are no legal protections for trans women,” says Joss. “I'm applying for asylum to the U.S. because I will be able to live safely and find community." 

Maritza

maritza and her partner jenny

In 2008, Maritza (left) began receiving death threats after the rape and murder of her gay friend. Fearing that she would be next, she fled Honduras and eventually resettled in Spain. After settling, she met her partner Jenny.

After facing threats of violence and persecution, Jenny and Maritza say they found strength in one another. Today, they own a tattoo studio together in Barcelona. 

Crystel 

portrait of crystel

When Crystel was a teenager, she was forced out of her family’s home due to her identity as a transgender woman. Living alone as a young, transgender woman in El Salvador was dangerous — leaving her vulnerable to assault, extortion and gang violence. To reach safety, Crystel joined a traveling circus that eventually brought her to Costa Rica, where she was able to seek asylum. 

Now, she is a community organizer in the capital, San José, where she supports other transgender refugees and asylum seekers who have fled El Salvador and Honduras. 

How you can help… 

LGBTIQ+ refugees and asylum seekers are forced to flee their homes every day, but you can offer them hope on their journeys to safety. By becoming a monthly donor, you can help UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, provide protection services, psychosocial support and livelihood opportunities to displaced LGBTIQ+ people as they settle into communities where they can safely be themselves. 

May 17 2022
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