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Special report: Transphobia and hate crimes in Guatemala


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So far this year in Guatemala 13 transgender people have been murdered and a 20 year old transgender person is missing.

Johana Ramirez, a leader of the Latin American and Caribbean Network of Transgender People (Redlactrans), was the victim of attempted murder. Here she talks to Key Correspondent, Alejandra Ruffo, about how these ‘hate crimes’ are carried out with impunity in Guatemala.

“We’re really afraid of the national civil police and the public ministry, because of their direct actions towards us, and the things we have seen”, says Johana.

"There have been human rights violations by security staff and uniformed persons. People who hold power in our country.”


Kenia Mayli, Jessica Andreina and Sabrina Cajas were murdered last year between late October and early November. These hate crimes, a result of transphobia - an irrational aversion to transgender people, transsexuals and transvestites - led members of Redlactrans and local organisation Reinas de la Noche (Queens of the Night) to mobilise.

They publicised the hate crimes in the media and participated in a national demonstration to stop violence against women. But nothing changed.

“As a result of those actions there were more attacks, more threats. I was attacked and someone tried to kill me”, says Johana.

This happened in November, when she was walking along the street and noticed four men following her. “They came very close and started to say ‘it’s her, it’s her’. When I looked at them I realised that one was getting his gun ready to shoot me... I ran off and went into a shop.”


Johana escaped, but her nightmare didn’t end there. Catherine Barrios, her roommate, who is 20 years old, has been missing since mid-February.

“We don’t know her whereabouts, or how she is. We don’t know whether she was kidnapped or murdered,” says Johana.

Acts of violence are repeated week after week, day after day. A week after Johana was threatened a group of transgender women were shot at by a group of men of similar description. Other reports include threats repeatedly carried out by men driving by in a red car, faces covered by balaclavas.

You can read the story in Spanish here.


When hate and violence comes from the police force and public ministry it is difficult to protest for justice. So transgender organisations have gone to the Office of Human Rights to denounce and publicise these hate crimes, and they are preparing to exert pressure at international level through the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

They are united, but as they do not have support from their families or the media, they are also very much alone.

“Many of our friends are buried as NN (No-Name) because their families won’t recognise them. So we do their families’ job, recognising the bodies, burying them” says Johana.

“For the media we’re tabloid news. They don’t report on the human side, they just make fun of us, condemn us, and they give more ammunition to the people who commit these ugly acts,” says Johana.

Johana claims that in Guatemala the average life expectancy for a transgender person is 25 years: “If we make it to 30, it’s because we got lucky.”  

Johana lives in fear. She goes into and leaves her house in fear. But through her tears she says she will not stop.  “My responsibility as an activist, as a champion of human rights in the transgender community, is to carry on. If I wasn’t part of Redlactrans, if I was alone, maybe I’d feel like I was in an abyss” she concludes.


These despicable events deserve to be met with the coordinated efforts of governments, civil society and international agencies, because they have to be brought to light and it is fundamental that future incidents be prevented.

If things do not change, these citizens will be an easy target for institutional violence that abuses and kills with impunity, while governments turn a blind eye. When sexual orientation, gender identity or sex work is the cause of death, this is a shared responsibility for all of us, which calls for less talk and quick action.

This was written by Key Correspondent, Alejandra Ruffo. Key Correspondents is a citizen journalist programme hosted by the Alliance.  The KC team is a vibrant network of more than 250 community-based writers from more than 50 countries.

    My responsibility as an activist, as a champion of human rights in the transgender community, is to carry on