84, Transgender, and Baptized: Facing the Backlash against LGBTQI Rights

October 23, 2016

While tens of thousands in Mexico City protest the proposal for the national legalization of same-sex marriage, 84 year-old trans activist Samantha Flores fights for the elderly gay community, marginalized to the point of invisibility.

Samantha practices her daily yoga in her bedroom in Mexico City. Photo by Benedicte Deserus, 2015.

Samantha practices her daily yoga in her bedroom in Mexico City. Photo by Benedicte Desrus, 2013.

In the early hours of Christmas Eve 2015, a transgender sex worker was found murdered with an ice pick in Guadalajara, Mexico. Incidents like these—alongside reports of trans women being dismembered, their remains strewn across neighborhoods—are, tragically, not uncommon.

Despite legal reforms benefitting the LGBTQI community in Mexico—last year the Supreme Court ruled against bans on same-sex marriage, and President Peña-Nieto is currently attempting to push a bill through Congress that would permit such marriages nationally—stigma and hate still run deep. Just this week, tens of thousands of people in Mexico City protested the new bill. As LGBTQI visibility has increased, ironically, so has violence, and violence against transgender women in particular.

Samantha, with her friend Tico, makes up and wears a traditional Tehuana dress to celebrate the Gay Pride Day in Mexico City.

Samantha, with her friend Tico, makes up and wears a traditional Tehuana dress to celebrate the Gay Pride Day in Mexico City. Photo by Benedicte Desrus, 2012.

Samantha Flores—now 84—came out as a transgender woman in Mexico City 23 years ago, though she wasn’t able to officially change her gender identity until recently. In 2015 she was baptized as “Samantha Aurelia Vicenta Flores García,” a lifelong dream. In the late 1990s, when a close friend contracted HIV, Flores was witness to the doubly vicious discrimination that HIV-positive gay men faced. Since then, she has been an advocate for gay, transgender, and sex-worker rights.

Today, Flores is working toward opening a center called Laetus Vitae (Full Life) for older gay men, who are marginalized both because of their age and sexual orientation. Raising funds for the center has been an uphill task, but Flores remains committed—hoping that when it opens, at least eight men will be able to find a home and community in Laetus Vitae.

Additional reporting by Guillermina Olmedo.

This piece, commissioned by Creative Time Reports, has also been published in Salon.

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