Transgender Rights at Risk in Peru: An Urgent Call for Action

Transgender rights have become a matter of life and death in Peru, with six transgender women having been murdered since the start of 2023. The issue has brought into sharp focus the government’s unwillingness or inability to safeguard the lives of the transgender community in the country. This has led to protests from people demanding immediate action against gender violence. The most recent protest, in February 2023, involved 70 transgender women chanting the names of the murdered victims outside the police station in Lima. The murders are believed to be linked to a territorial dispute over control of the sex trade in downtown streets between local transgender and cisgender women from Venezuela. Most of the killings were carried out by a mafia of pimps.

Since the prostitution trade in Peru is not illegal, authorities try to keep it hidden by making street life difficult for sex workers. Despite their attempts to quell the trade, it continues because of underlying issues like poverty and unemployment. Unannounced and unprompted, authorities sometimes take sex workers to police stations for identity checks, which are often accompanied by insults and beatings.

The recent wave of killings has been particularly brutal. On 12 February, a 33-year-old trans woman, Ruby Ferrer, was picked up by a supposed client who then took her to a remote area and killed her. Her killer sent the video of her murder as a threat to other trans women. The next day, another trans woman, Priscila Aguado, was kidnapped and murdered. Before that, Erika Quintana, Ale Castillo, Fiorella Melgarejo, and Camila Sanchez had also been killed. In total, there have been six trans women murders in Peru since the start of 2023, compared to eight murders of trans women throughout the whole of 2022, as recorded by the LGBT Rights Observatory at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia.

The transgender community has been vocal in its response to these brutal murders. Activists have called for urgent action on social media platforms, such as WhatsApp, and organized protests. In February, dozens of transgender women marched on the streets of downtown Lima, with the transgender pride flag prominently displayed. They took their protest to the Directorate of Criminal Investigation, which is the national division responsible for confronting organized crime. The banner they held up read, “The state’s lack of interest in us is also transphobia.”

In Peru, there is a stark lack of interest and care towards transgender people. Transgender individuals are often ostracized by their families and are subsequently forced to leave their homes, with many finding it difficult to get an education. This exclusion is what exposes them to such extreme levels of violence. Leyla Huerta, the director of Feminas, a community-based organization of trans women, notes that the problem is not just a lack of job opportunities, but also stems from family violence, a lack of education, and the confiscation of their tools for survival.

The situation in Peru is bleak for the transgender community, and urgent action is needed to protect their lives. Protests and activism can bring attention to the issue and create public pressure for the government to take action. However, more needs to be done to address the underlying causes of gender violence, including poverty and exclusion. The government must take a more proactive role in protecting transgender individuals and ensuring that they are not subjected to the extreme levels of violence and discrimination that they face today. 


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