Amplifying their Voices: LGBTI Youth Organize for their Rights
Located on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, San Miguelito is a small town in Río San Juan. While only a five-hour drive from the capital, culturally and socially it feels light years away. Founded in 1850s, the town retains much of its colonial charm with historic homes surrounding the central square which is physically and socially dominated by the Catholic church.
During the last century, San Miguelito was a key railroad hub, but its importance as a commercial center has declined significantly. Today, labor options are scarce and the majority of its inhabitants are engaged in livestock, agriculture and fishing. Educational opportunities end at high school, creating barriers for young people who do not have the economic resources to relocate to other cities to pursue education.
This was the case for Kendy Perez. After finishing high school, she hoped to study nursing, a profession that is passionate about, but she could not afford to leave San Miguelito. The inability to pursue further education is just one of the challenges Kendy faces living in San Miguelito. She is a young transgender woman, and a few years ago she decided to assume her gender identity publicly and live openly as a woman. This has not been easy in San Miguelito, which is known for its conservative values and strong religious traditions. Generally speaking, people in the LGBTI community, are looked down upon, explains Kendy. That’s why it was so hard for her to “come out of the closet.”
“In the neighborhood they looked at me like a weirdo. At school they would not let me dress as I wanted. I was required to wear pants like a man,” she says.
Discrimination and social stigma against transsexuals are just some of the barriers that Kendy has overcome with support from the Foundation of Women of San Miguelito (FUMSAMI). One day, Kendy was approached by another youth from FUMSAMI who invited her to attend a workshop. “I went and liked it, because they told me about my rights, something I did not know about,” she says.
FUMSAMI is a local organization that advocates for rights of women and minority groups. Since 2013, with USAID support under the Local Governance Program implemented by Global Communities, FUMSAMI has been working to strengthen citizen participation among women, young people and other underrepresented groups in San Miguelito.
Kendy has become increasingly active in FUMSAMI activities, which helped promote awareness of exclusion and discrimination faced by members of LGBTI community, and offered them resources for support. Participating in several workshops, Kendy learned about her rights to housing, employment, health care and her right to dress and express herself according to her sexual identity.
“In the workshops I learned how to advocate for the LGBTI community and my rights — to a name, to be happy, to have a boyfriend, to have an adopted child, to have so many things that any human being can have,” said Kendy.
Now that Kendy is aware of her rights, she recognizes the importance of organizing to promote respect and tolerance towards LGBTI people in her community. With others in the community, she has organized to urge the municipal government, governmental bodies and citizens in general to embrace citizen participation, and the inclusion of gender and LGBTI perspectives for more equitable and fair development processes.
“I fear that my voice alone is not going to be heard, but when in concert with the LGBTI community, we can make our voices loud and they can hear us.”