LGBTQ Venezuelan migrants in Colombia struggle to survive
By Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade
Edgar García and his partner, Dannys Torres, on Oct. 3, 2018, used a canoe to cross the Arauca River that marks the Venezuela-Colombia border.
García was a member of the board of directors of Alianza Lambda de Venezuela, a Venezuelan LGBTQ rights group, before he fled Venezuela. Torres worked as a hairdresser in Caracas, the Venezuelan capital.
The couple now lives in Rafael Uribe Uribe, a working-class neighborhood in Bogotá, the Colombian capital.
Torres continues to work as a hairdresser. García most recently worked for a telecommunications company.
“We are settled here in Bogotá,” García told the Washington Blade on Sept. 21 during an interview with him and Torres that took place at a shopping mall near their home. “You have your life here.”
García and Torres are two of the more than 5.4 million Venezuelans who the Coordination Platform for Migrants and Refugees from Venezuela say have left their country as of November 2020 because of its ongoing economic and political crises.
Statistics from the Colombian government indicate there are currently more than 1.7 million Venezuelans in the country. More than 50 percent of them live in Bogotá and the departments of Norte de Santander, Atlántico and Antioquia.
Colombian President Iván Duque in February announced the country would legally recognize Venezuelan migrants who are registered with the government.
Sources in Colombia with whom the Blade has spoken say there are likely many more Venezuelan migrants in the country than official statistics indicate. Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV remain disproportionately vulnerable to discrimination and violence and often lack access to health care and formal employment.
A report the Red de Movilidad Humana LGBTI+—a network of advocacy groups in Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala and Mexico—published with the support of the U.N. Refugee Agency notes sex trafficking and even death are among the myriad threats that LGBTQ migrants from Venezuela face once they enter Colombia. The report indicates they also face discrimination in shelters because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, sexual violence and a lack of access to the Colombian judicial system.
Trans woman left Venezuela ‘in search of a better quality of life’
Vanesa, a 25-year-old transgender woman from the Venezuelan city of Maracaibo, came to Colombia eight years ago “in search of a better quality of life.”
She told the Blade on Sept. 14 during an interview at Fundación de Atención Inclusiva, Social y Humana (FUVADIS)—an organization in Barranquilla, a city in Atlántico department that is near the mouth of the Magdalena River in northern Colombia, that serves Venezuelan migrants—she entered Colombia near Maicao, a city in La Guajira department via an informal border crossing known as a “trocha.” Vanesa said she was nearly kidnapped.
“The people who were standing on the sides (of the “trocha”) who ask you for money were supposedly security,” she said. “There was no security. They left me there because I was trans. They said a lot of ugly things. They assaulted me, including one (man) who was not going to let me go. They wanted me to kidnap me or have me there to do whatever they wanted to me.”
Vanesa said a woman helped her escape.
“The experience was horrible,” she said.
Vanesa traveled to Cartagena, a popular tourist destination that is less than two hours southwest of Barranquilla, and began to work at her friend’s hair salon. Vanesa told the Blade that her friend’s mother “never liked me because … she is a Christian.”
Vanesa now lives in Barranquilla and supports herself through video chats. Vanesa also competes in local beauty pageants and is able to send money to her mother in Venezuela.
“I work here,” she said. “I am relatively well off.”
Andy, a trans man from Venezuela’s Maracay state, left Venezuela four years ago with his partner and their daughter. Andy, like Vanesa, entered Colombia via a “trocha” near Maicao.
“I migrated because the situation was becoming worse and worse each day,” Andy told the Blade on Sept. 14 as he attended a workshop that Caribe Afirmativo, an LGBTQ group in northern Colombia, organized at a Barranquilla hotel.
Caribe Afirmativo has opened three “Casas Afirmativos” in Barranquilla, Maicao and Medellín that provide access to health care and other services to Venezuelan migrants who are LGBTQ and/or living with HIV/AIDS. Caribe Afirmativo also operates several “Casas de Paz” throughout northern Colombia that support the implementation of an LGBTQ-inclusive peace agreement between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia that came into force in 2016.
Andy said his work in Venezuela allowed him to learn how “to sell whatever product,” but he told the Blade he struggled to find a job once he arrived in Colombia.
Andy told the Blade that he, his partner and their daughter now have stable housing in Barranquilla. Andy said he also has received a job offer in Medellín, the country’s second-largest city that is the capital of Antioquia department.
Jesús Gómez is a 33-year-old gay man from Venezuela’s Trujillo state in the Venezuelan Andes that are close to the country’s border with Colombia.
He previously worked with Venezuela Diversa, a Venezuelan LGBTQ advocacy group, and accepted a position with the municipality of Chacao that is part of Caracas. Gómez, whose mother was born in Colombia, also joined a student protest movement against the government.
Gómez fled to Colombia and is pursuing his asylum case with the help of UNHCR.
“I feel bad emotionally, but I am well-off compared to other people,” he told the Blade on Sept. 16 during an interview at a hotel in Cúcuta, a city in Norte de Santander department that is a few miles from the country’s border with Venezuela. “I am working to help other people who are in the same situation.”
Gómez in December is scheduled to graduate from nursing school. He also works with Fundación Censurados, a Cúcuta-based HIV/AIDS service organization that works with Venezuelan migrants, and has supported other organizations in the area that serve them.