Jamra primary scholl for children affected by HIV/AIDS, drugs or poverty, Senegal (c) Nell Freeman/Alliance Participants in the Photovioce project, Ecuador © Marcela Nievas for the Alliance
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Overcoming stigma in Mexico

1
JUN
2009

Aids Alliance

In the conservative city of San Luis Potosi, central Mexico, a pioneering community organisation is striving to change attitudes to one of society’s most stigmatised groups.

In the conservative city of San Luis Potosi, central Mexico, a pioneering community organisation is striving to change attitudes to one of society’s most stigmatised groups.

Alliance implementing partner FID (Fortaleciendo la Diversidad) was the city’s first transgender organisation, created as a result of the Vida Digna programme which is seeking to reduce HIV-related stigma and discrimination. Transgender people are among those most at risk of HIV infection in Mexico.

The group’s innovative work was recognised last year when it won the Red Ribbon award at the International AIDS Conference. This includes running workshops for the local police to raise their awareness of transgender issues and reduce aggressive behaviour.

“The situation has improved a great deal since we started to work with the police,” says Jessica (surname withheld). “There are a lot fewer cases of physical aggression from the police. The girls who are sex workers are harassed a lot less since we started these workshops.”

FID, which is supported by Alliance linking organisation Colectivo Sol, recently negotiated a partnership with the city’s Secretariat for Culture for a photography course. For Edith, one of several FID members to attend the course, her peers made an ideal subject. Her work was recently exhibited in a local gallery.

“I feel really happy about the exhibition," says Edith. “It made me feel good and increased my self esteem because I saw that I could do something and it was recognised.”

FID’s next project with the Secretariat of Culture is a drama course, culminating in a theatre production for the general public. Such activities help challenge discriminatory attitudes among the local population, as well as providing participants with new skills.

One of the most pressing needs for transgender people is to broaden options for earning a living. At present 90% of those that FID works with are sex workers.

“I have worked for 35 years prostituting myself,” says Luisa. “I am tired of it and want to do something else. I did not worry about this when I was younger, but now that I am older I regret that I did not learn how to do other things as well, because when you get older it is harder to make a living this way when there are so many younger girls around.”

As well as trying to improve attitudes, FID is working to change discriminatory policies and procedures. To sign up for health insurance, for example, transgender people must use their masculine names rather than their chosen names. FID is trying to change this rule, which is blocking access to health care for some of those in greatest need.