The first “wave” of the migrant caravan has arrived at the southern border, multiple outlets reported Wednesday. With support from an LGBTQ advocacy organization, this group of about 80 mostly-LGBTQ people split off from the rest of the group after experiencing discrimination both from the communities along the way and from fellow travelers.
During a news conference Sunday, Honduran migrant Cesar Mejia explained, “Whenever we arrived at a stopping point the LGBT community was the last to be taken into account in every way. So our goal was to change that and say, ‘This time we are going to be first.'” That mistreatment reportedly included being denied food and access to showers, even by local groups providing aid to others in the caravan.
According to Mejia, advocacy groups reached out after they arrived in Mexican territory and helped bus them ahead to the border. Even as they await the asylum process in a four-bedroom house in Tijuana, locals in their neighborhood are concerned that they are a threat to the community’s safety.
Many of the group’s members fled vicious persecution in their home countries because of their identities. In a story for Cuba’s e-magazine Tremenda Nota and the Washington Blade, Yariel Valdés shared numerous examples of the kinds of violence they are escaping.
Loly Méndez, a trans woman and cosmetologist, for example, said she had been assaulted and robbed by a gang back in El Salvador. “I am thankful to God because they did not take my life, nor did they rape me,” she said. But she also spoke of a friend who was strangled and thrown off a bridge. “People hated her because she already looked like a woman,” Méndez said, adding that she hoped to complete her own transition in the United States.
Kecha Cataleya, a 24-year-old trans woman from Honduras, spoke of being doused with gas and set aflame in 2015. “I can still see the scars,” she told Valdés. She explained that gangs often force trans people to sell drugs and prostitute themselves.
These stories aren’t new, but with President Trump demonizing the caravan as an “invasion,” they have been lost in the narrative. A report from Reuters last year described “epidemic levels of violence” against LGBTQ people in countries like El Salvador, Honduras, and Guatemala. The gangs in these countries privilege machismo and target trans women and other queer people for not conforming to those expectations of masculinity. The Inter-American Commission of Human rights noted “high levels of violence against transgender people,” with resulting low life expectancy.
American evangelicals bear significant blame for this culture, as they have exported both their values and their political tactics to Latin American countries, including their opposition to LGBTQ rights.
Such tales of LGBTQ persecution were also relevant to members of a smaller migrant caravan that was traveling to the United States this past spring. One transgender woman spoke of her own tribal community in Nicaragua rejecting her at a very young age, and said she found no escape from persecution elsewhere. Transgender women in that caravan faced discrimination at every leg of their journey, and one woman who made it to the border, Roxana Hernández, later died in the custody of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement after she was allegedly denied food and necessary medical care while being subjected to miserable detainment conditions.
The United Nations qualifies people fleeing persecution because of their sexual orientation or gender identity as refugees. But last week President Trump imposed new rules allowing him to deny asylum to any immigrant who crosses the border illegally. He claimed that people are using “fraudulent or meritless asylum claims to gain entry” into the United States and has in the past repeatedly promised to turn away members of the caravan.