Ecuador’s transgender community decries lack of government aid during pandemic

“I DON’T WANT TO DIE FOR BEING TRANS”: Rashell Erazo during a march for LGBTIQ+ rights in 2018. Photo used with permission.

This article is part of our special coverage of LGBTQI+ pride. 

In Ecuador, the transgender community is surviving the pandemic thanks to solidarity from their peers, as LGBTQI+ advocates claim the State is failing to respond sufficiently – or respond at all. At the time of writing, Ecuador has approximately 74,000 confirmed cases and over 5000 people have died from COVID-19 as the country tries to restart economic activity.

Ecuador’s legal framework has protected people of all sexual orientations and gender identities since 2008. However, the trans community is being faced with a dire situation, as Rashell Erazo told Global Voices. Erazo is the president of the Ecuadorian LGBTQI+ organisation ALFIL and the national representative for Redlactrans (the Latin American and Caribbean Trans Network).

The lockdown has affected the trans population disproportionately, due to the community’s vulnerability in terms of labor in the services sector and discrimination in public health. For this reason, Erazo believes that the LGBTQI+ community should be classified as a “priority population” according to the definition in several rulings by the Ecuadorian Constitutional Court.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also called on its Member States in April 2020 to guarantee LGBTQI+ people’s rights as part of their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Erazo condemns the fact that Ecuador is not helping this group and she is now looking to take legal action against the State.

She describes the State’s lack of response as essentially trying to force the Ministry for Economic and Social Integration (MIES) to deliver humanitarian aid to the transgender community. She reveals that NGOs have presented a list of 100 people within the transgender community who are living in extreme poverty to MIES so that the government could provide them contingency payments in response to the pandemic – which consist of a transfer of $120 for 950,000 people. Yet, none of the trans people have received assistance.

In Ecuador, solidarity is coming first and foremost from the trans community itself. Rashell Erazo discussed the situation and the actions planned by the trans community in Ecuador via Whatsapp with Global Voices author Carlos Flores. This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.

Carlos Flores (CF): What is the situation facing the trans community during this pandemic?

Rashell Erazo (RE): Desde el 16 de marzo que comenzó el estado de excepción (vía decreto ejecutivo) se podría decir que la pandemia ha venido a visibilizar más la invisibilización de la población trans. Esto en todos los contextos que nos engloban como la pobreza extrema y la supervivencia laboral (el subempleo), alrededor de lo que nosotras transitamos que son el trabajo sexual, la peluquería y labores manuales. Por decreto ejecutivo han sido consideradas como no esenciales y esto ha vulnerado cada uno de los espacios de supervivencia de la población trans, obligándonos a violar el decreto ejecutivo porque no era posible continuar [acatando al decreto], al cabo de un mes del estado de excepción, sin tener el sustento diario. Es dramático. Hay personas que dicen que todos estamos siendo comparados, pero no se puede comparar una población con un perfil de alta vulnerabilidad y exclusión que vivimos con el resto de población cisgénero y heterosexual.

Rashell Erazo (RE): The state of emergency was introduced on 16 March (by executive degree), and since then it has been clear that the pandemic is bringing to light exactly how invisible the trans population is. This is without mentioning the other struggles that we face, like extreme poverty and workplace survival (under-employment), which for us often involves sex work, hairdressing or manual labour. As a result of the executive decree, these have been deemed non-essential and this has put the trans population’s safe spaces at risk, forcing us to violate the executive decree because it was impossible to carry on, a month into the state of emergency, without a livelihood. It’s dramatic. Some people are saying that we’re all in the same boat, but you can’t compare a community that is as highly vulnerable and excluded as ours with the rest of the cisgender, heterosexual population.

CF: At the end of March, Guayaquil was hit by the pandemic. How did the trans community deal with this?

RE: Nosotros hemos tenido contactos fraternos con los grupos LGBTI, como Plan Diversidad o Casa de las Muñecas. Creo que la situación de las compañeras ha sido dramática. En principio tuvieron que resistir con todas sus fuerzas para acatar el Estado de Excepción por la gravedad que implica el azote de la pandemia y la proyección brutal de la curva de contagio. En Guayaquil hubo formas de solidaridad entre nosotras, ya que esperar que el Estado reconozca los convenios internacionales, como el exhorto de la CIDH indicando que en esta pandemia el Estado debe considerar a las poblaciones LGBTI como atención prioritaria, eso no ha ocurrido. No tenemos conocimiento que se haya registrado un alto número de compañeras que se hayan afectado. De hecho no podemos ni siquiera saber cuántas compañeras trabajadoras sexuales, no solo en Guayaquil sino en las principales ciudades, puedan estar contagiadas con Covid. El acceso a las pruebas es prácticamente nulo para la comunidad LGBTI.

RE: We’ve had messages of support from LGBTI groups, like Plan Diversidad or Casa de las Muñecas. The situation for sex workers has been dramatic, I think. First, they had to fight with all their strength to comply with the State of Emergency because of the gravity pandemic and the serious predicted contagion curve. There were signs of solidarity among us in Guayaquil, since waiting for the State to recognise international conventions, like the appeal from the IACHR that the State must consider LGBTI groups a priority for assistance during this pandemic, has come to nothing. We aren’t sure if they’ve recorded a high number of sex workers affected. We actually can’t even be sure how many sex workers could be infected with COVID in Guayaquil or in the bigger cities. The LGBTI community have practically no access to tests.

CF: What actions are going to be taken against the State to fight for a specific policy, now that the pandemic is expected to continue for several more months?

RE: Se hacen acciones paliativas como entregar un kit de alimentos que a veces soluciona temporalmente el problema de alimentos de las compañeras, pero esa no es responsabilidad nuestra como organizaciones de la sociedad civil sino del Estado. Hay que estar muy claros que es el Estado el que tiene la responsabilidad por velar en el tema de ayuda humanitaria y de facilitar la subsistencia de las personas. Tenemos un alto índice de desempleo entre las que nos contamos las mujeres trans y que el Estado limite el derecho de poder realizar el trabajo sexual callejizado, pues, lógicamente estaríamos pensando en juntarnos con organizaciones que manejan el tema legal.

Podríamos estar articulando algún tipo de acción contra el Estado, primero, por mantener en la indefensión total a las poblaciones de atención prioritaria, no atenderlas, especificados en los lineamientos nacionales e internacionales. Si por estos 60 días que ha decretado el gobierno puede volver a recrudecerse el tema de la limitación de derechos, de movilidad y demás, nosotras creeríamos que podríamos optar por una demanda internacional ante la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos porque es una evidente violación del derecho al trabajo, al alimento, a la movilidad. El Estado, y concretamente el Gobierno de Ecuador, no puede seguir ignorando a las poblaciones históricamente maltratadas y que seguimos en resistencia. Hay instrumentos legales que nos amparan.

RE: Palliative actions are being taken, like delivering food parcels, which sometimes temporarily solve problems like the sex workers’ lack of food, but this shouldn’t be our responsibility as civil society organisations; it should be the responsibility of the State. We have to recognise that it’s the State who should be responsible for providing humanitarian aid and ensuring everyone has provisions. There is a high level of unemployment among trans women and the State limits our right to solicit sex work on the streets, so it makes sense that we’re thinking about joining forces with organisations who would handle the legal aspects.

We could take some kind of action against the State, first for the way they have left these high-priority populations totally helpless and provided none of the assistance specified in national and international guidelines. If, during the 60 days that the government reserves the right to limit rights of mobility etc., we believe we could bring a case before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights because it’s an obvious violation of our right to work, to food and to movement. The State, specifically the Government of Ecuador, cannot continue to ignore these historically mistreated communities and we will continue to resist. There are legal instruments that support us.

Erazo is continuing to fight with other organisations to ensure that the State fulfills its obligation to help the LGBTQI+ community. “We aren’t inherently vulnerable; it’s the State that makes these populations vulnerable,” she concludes.

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