Karla was a 31-year-old trans woman, member and leader of the LGTBQ+ community and sex worker in Cúcuta. She worked with the Association of the Trans Women from Norte de Santander (Asotrasnor Cúcuta Foundation) to fight against the violence she and her community faced. She was an active defender of the rights of sex workers, victims of the armed conflict, homeless people and drug users. After surviving two attacks in October and December 2016, she was killed on 1 January 2017 by two men at her usual place of work.
Even though the Colombian constitution and law recognises and protects the rights of LGBTQ+ people, as well as the rights of sex workers, the everyday reality falls very far from the legal stance. Since 2016, at least 545 LGBTQ+ people have been killed in Colombia, while 298 have been victims of police brutality. In both cases, 50 of them were sexworkers. Discrimination, stigmatisation, criminalisation, violence, abuse, and the denial of access to public services are common problems that LGBTQ+ sexworkers face.
Civil society organisations identify the public forces (police) and illegal armed groups (paramilitaries) as the main perpetrators of violence against both the LGBTQ+ community and sexworkers. The police are often reported to violate the rights of LGBTQ sexworkers and abuse them violently for their own entertainment. In turn, paramilitaries use violence to control prostitution and sexual exploitation for financial gains.
Given the systematic abuse by the police and paramilitaries (see previous post) and the discrimination of the state institutions that LGBTQ+ and especially trans sex workers face, the protection that grassroot organisation can provide is often vital. Organisations such as the Trans Community Network, Diverse Colombia and the Asotransnor Cúcuta Foundation, where Karla worked, build important networks of support and protection, as well as advocate for the rights of trans people and sexworkers.
In addition to often being the main source of protection from violence, they help access public services, provide trainings, counselling and legal advice, and push for public policies inclusive of diverse genders and identities, among others. They also create spaces for dialogue and cooperation to raise awareness of the struggles of LGBTQ+ populations, and to challenge stigmas and shift the conservative, patriarchal, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments in the Colombian society which are the root of the abuse and violence.
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There are sources of information and organizations that work with victims of the conflict in Colombia.
For example check out: "Somos Defensores"
If you want to make a portrait and know about the life and social struggles of one of the Colombian Social Leaders, contact us.