'A Light Inside': A photo book documenting the hardships suffered by transgender women in Latin America

Text and photography by Danielle Villasana

I first met Tamara on the streets of downtown Lima in 2013. She was 27 and the first trans woman I started photographing. Tamara had struggled with her identity since elementary school, where she was bullied so intensely by her peers that she dropped out of school. At 18, she began working as a prostitute. Tamara often told me she wasn’t going to live past 30. How could she, she defiantly asked, when society treats her as less than human?

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy, Tamara’s death, as a result of HIV and tuberculosis, came less than a month after her 30th birthday. Her death at such a young age is sadly common. Most trans women in Latin America die or are murdered before they reach 35. Latin America leads the world in homicides of transgender people: Nearly 80 percent of trans homicides worldwide occur in the region. The prevalence of HIV among trans women is as high as 38 percent—trans women are 50 percent as likely as the general population to acquire HIV. Through years of documenting the hardships trans women face, I’ve realized that an early death is more common than a long life.

The human rights violations perpetrated against trans women throughout Latin America are the result of toxic societal forces. The region’s highly machismo, conservative and transphobic culture ostracizes and stigmatizes them, posing a serious threat to their health, social security, life expectancy and employment prospects. With few options and little support, many practice prostitution. As sex workers with no legal protections, they’re at greater risk of violence and sexual and substance abuse and are less able to protect their health. Since they have no legal protections or recognition, many instances of violence and even murder of trans women remain undocumented.

About the book:
Because most governments throughout Latin America and the world have ignored or failed to protect trans women, photographer Danielle Villasana is determined to show how such injustices often have deadly consequences.

In association with FotoEvidence, Villasana has launched a Kickstarter campaign to publish these important stories in a bilingual photo book that will be accessible throughout Peru and reach police forces, medical institutions, and lawmakers — sectors that are often complicit in the abuse against trans women because of institutional prejudice and lack of understanding.

Read more about the campaign and how to help >>>

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