By Celeste Bilbao-Joseph
Transgender individuals suffer from high levels of discrimination, oppression and social isolation, associated with poor mental and sexual health. Social exclusion also leads to low levels of education, high unemployment and poverty.
The experience of Trans Latinas in Canada is further complicated by their histories as migrants. They are affected by transphobia and neo-colonial racialization throughout their lives – in their communities of origin, during the migration process itself, and upon arrival in Canada. Leaving behind contexts of radical exclusion, Trans Latinas hope to find basic rights in Canada but continue to experience exclusion based on their gender, ethnicity, lived trauma, and migratory status. This radical socio-economic exclusion has a powerful dehumanizing effect.
The complex experiences of trans immigrants require an approach that emphasizes and addresses the intersectional nature of the challenges and systems of oppression brought on by their gender and migrant identities. Recognizing these needs, in 2018, we developed a partnership between researchers at GloMHI, the University of Toronto, the Centre for Spanish Speaking People, and members of the Toronto Trans Latina community to launch the 'Trans Latinas Overcoming Barriers' (TLRB) project.
The project comprised 12 biweekly workshops – with sessions on self-care, social integration, and economic inclusion – and 6 monthly peer-led Self-Care/Peer/Advocacy (SPA) sessions, to:
Year 2 of the project launched in 2019. Peer leaders coordinated and facilitated Trans SPA sessions with the support of an Advisory Committee formed by part of the research team from Year 1. We expanded the target population to all Trans folks (not gender-specific), focusing on all racialized community members (not just Latinxs) who are often also immigrants. It is important to highlight that our TLRB project was born purely from the needs of the community – a community that was treated as invisible and felt underserved and unloved.
Joining in our shared humanity, our academic team and trans community partners created this intervention with the goal of challenging the inequities and social injustices that the migrant trans community suffers. We aimed to decrease these inequities by co-creating a unique place in the world and a unique moment in time where trans migrants could thrive, be fulfilled and happy.
By focusing on needs identified by our trans community partners, we strongly believe that the tools, knowledge, and skills created in the TLRB project can help remove some of the systemic obstacles trans individuals face and may empower participants to continue this work themselves.
It is our hope that this model can be modified to different cultures or settings across Canada, Latin America, and beyond, in order to continue our mission of working as partners with the trans community and contributing to its social and economic inclusion, aiming at achieving our common goal, social justice.
Mental Health Clinician
Center for the Spanish Speaking Peoples (CSSP)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada