Project Vida's RAICES program organized Trans Latina Town Hall on Nov. 21 in Little Village, reporting on their project "Evaluating the Needs of Transgender Latinas in Chicagoland: A Focus Group Analysis."
"It's time we start to work together and make sure the needs of trans women are being met," said Project Vida's Lead Program Coordinator Emmanuel Garcia. "When I say trans women I mean the trans community as a wholemale, female, however their gender expression is. Particularly for us, looking at trans Latina women was a need, specifically in our own Latino community."
Held at Little Village's Chicago Public Library with several dozen community members in attendance, Garcia began the event with an introduction of Project Vida's RAICES and an interactive, experimental exercise.
Researchers and authors of the report Greg Van Hyfte, MA/MA/HAP and Reyna Ortiz presented the findings, while panelist Alexis Martinez and Dr. Margo Bell joined them for the concluding panel discussion. The Illinois Department of Public Health Quality of Life Initiative funded the project.
"My hope is that we weren't just preaching to the choir, that we did change some hearts and open some minds about how people can be allies to trans people," said Van Hyfte.
During the initial phases of the RAICES project in 2012, a community needs assessment included a focus group of nine of Chicago's West Side-based gay and bisexual Latino youth participants; a focus group composed of five mothers of gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (GBTQ) youth; and a focus group of five Cicero-based gay and bisexual Latino youth. The report containing those research findings was released in 2013.
In April 2013, RAICES conducted another focus group, expanded the scope further, reaching transgender Latinas. An important component in assessing the community needs, according to the presenters, was to hear from community members directly and in this case, transgender Latinas.
The focus group had eight transgender women ranging from 18-63 years-old, with various backgrounds such as Colombian, Cuban, Mexican, Puerto Rican and mixed-race and ethnic groups. They were asked a series of questions pertaining to their own experiences. The next step, according to the organization, is to hold a focus group among transgender Latina women in Spanish.
"Our mission with the focus group was really to hear the needs of trans Latina women in their own words and engage the community to help us define the best interventions that would really be the most impactful to create community change," said Van Hyfte. "So we wanted to both serve the needs of the trans Latina women and also engage trans Latina women as a mobilizing force in the community change that we talked about wanting to do in ending homophobia and transphobia and the stigma."
The project originated from Garcia's interest in the LGBT community located in his hometown of Cicero, Ill.
"The original community that we serve is Cicero and I actually grew up in Cicero," said Garcia. "So for me, I had a lot invested in making sure there was community change in the community I'm very close to that I grew up in, that my family lives in, I went to school at. So, being able to work and have a role in highlighting the inclusion of LGBTs in my own community was a personal investment. What's nice about doing the focus group, what was important about putting it on paper per se, is really that hopefully we can allocate some resources so that these needs are met because of this focus group."
Ortiz shared her own experience coming out at 12-years-old thinking she was gay, but wanting to be a girl, yet not using the term "transsexual" because it was not familiar. At age 14, she realized she truly identified as a transsexual. Relating to the findings, some focus group participants displayed the same challenges when it came to defining gender and sexual identity. In conversation around identities of being transgender, transsexual, being a gay male, lesbian and/or heterosexual, some participants were confused when differentiating sexual attraction and identity from gender identity. As reported, coming out around these issues brought on personal challenges. With time and education, Ortiz said, transsexuals learn really about themselves.
"Something we all had an issue with, even though we're all transsexual women, there were issues within our community that we still had to clarify within ourselves," said Ortiz. "Society puts so much pressure on a label and defining what transsexuals are and as transsexuals ourselves, we still have to figure out what we need to explain to society. For example, transsexuals are a vague term just because there are so many different variations. There are transsexuals that like men, transsexuals that like women, there are transsexuals that are bi. We have to come to terms of what a transsexual is within ourselves."
Information delved into various aspects of transgender Latinas' lives. The extensive assessment included topics such as:
â€¢ Participants being transgender and not knowing other transgender women when discovering their own transsexuality, along with the loneliness of not being able to share the struggles faced when living as a man.
â€¢ Challenges dating heterosexual men as it felt more difficult to some participants because of the trans lifestyle, discrimination and lack of understanding from the mainstream society about transwomen. Many expressed they felt they were just used for sex and fetishized in these relationships.
â€¢ Having fixed gender roles at school and the challenges born from using the boys' bathroom and not being able to use the bathroom matching their gender expression due to the school administration's rules.
â€¢ Feeling more accepted in the city versus suburban areas.
â€¢ Survival behaviors people express while living in a given community and various ways transwomen have coped with challenges.
Garcia explained that learning lessons from the work completed in one predominantly Latino community helps with work in another Latino community. He gives the example of starting this research in Cicero and Berwyn and applying it to Little Village, Pilsen, Humboldt Park and Logan Square.
"It felt really great to bring together different parts of the community and have people in the same room to hear the information and also be brainstorming about ideas we could generate," said Van Hyfte. "Putting the 'T' back in LGBT, I think it's a really important part of an outcome that I really believe in and want to see move on. The other thing is the relationships that developed among the people that came tonight and really having concrete organizational representation of different facets of the community."
Ortiz explained being realistic and capturing the real issues in the transgender community was important. She added the information was completely raw and not sugar-coated in any way.
"The information is so important because it's real and when people read that, they're going to get a really true outlook on what transsexuals go through on an everyday basis," said Ortiz. "The focus group was really eye opening to me because we never talked about issues. We all just our lives and try to push forward and we try to just overcome whatever obstacles come toward us. I think that is the transgender motto is just overcoming everything even within ourselves. The most important thing I got out of the focus group is that as a group we all have the same issues. Sometimes it's a difference variation of the issue, but at the end of the day it's the same issue.
Garcia said with this year bringing various changes, trans Latina needs should be a significant topic of conversation.
"This has gone in stages and a lot of people have been doing this work for a long time," said Garcia. "This whole year, especially, there are so many changes around HIV prevention with medications and there's also a lot of changes on the community level with LGBT stuff with gay marriage being seen more favorably across the U.S., but also in our state passing marriage equality."
The full Trans Latina Focus Group report can be viewed at: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/pdfTransLatinaFocusGroupReport.pdf .
Trans Latina Focus Group Report viewable at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/pdf/pdfTransLatinaFocusGroupReport.pdf .
Videos by Tracy Baim:
Trans Latina town hall held in Little Village Part 1 www.youtube.com/watch .
Trans Latina town hall held in Little Village Part 2 www.youtube.com/watch .
Trans Latina town hall held in Little Village Part 3 www.youtube.com/watch .