In America, 1.4 million people identify as transgender but despite the strength in numbers, the community continues to face harassment and prejudice. Activists have been working for decades to promote trans rights and increasing visibility in an environment where being seen alone is dangerous. This list features some of the most prominent Latinx leaders in the transgender movement, who’ve been involved in the movement and whose voice and very existence in the public eye have made a difference. From pioneers like Bamby Salcedo to millennial women like Joanna Cifredo, whose podcast and stand-up comedy provide new ways to learn about the community, these women are boldly living their truths and empowering others along the way.
Mexican-American filmmaker and artist Nava Mau made her directorial debut this year with her short film Waking Hour, which she also wrote, produced and starred in. The film was inspired by her own experiences dating as a trans Latina woman, dealing with transphobia, and the issue of consent. The crowdfunding campaign financed the film which included a crew made up of largely queer and trans people of color.
“I, too, am a young trans woman still resolving the conflicts between my truth and the realities of this world. This story is very personal to me, yet Waking Hour has become personal to more people than I could have imagined as a first-time director,” she wrote on her site.
Mexican activist Jennicent Gutiérrez is one of the founding members of Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement, an organization that advocates the liberation of LGBTQ Latinx and building community and promoting education. Gutiérrez garnered attention when she interrupted President Obama during a White House dinner demanding the release of LGBTQ immigrants from detention. Following that event, immigration officials announced that immigration detainees would be housed according to their gender identity. She is dedicated to fundraising and promoting the rights of transgender women of color facing unsafe environments in detention centers. Gutiérrez came to the US when she was 15 and is seeking to become a permanent resident. “I was afraid of getting arrested and deported, but now that I confronted the president I’ve broken through a chain of fear and shame,” Gutiérrez said.
Salvadoran activist Ruby Corado founded LGBTQ center Casa Ruby in Washington, DC working to combat discrimination and harassment faced by the LGBTQ community. The center, the only bilingual, multicultural LGBTQ organization in DC, is a haven for those in need of legal services, food, clothing, health care, job training, and transitional housing. Corado was part of the Coalition to Clarify the D.C. Human Rights Act — renamed the D.C. Trans Coalition — which changed the D.C. Human Rights Act to include protections for gender identity or expression. “To every transgender person who is sitting at home doubting about their future, I am standing here to guarantee that it will be okay,” she said at a news conference.
Bamby Salcedo is one of the most prominent trans activist and founder/president of TransLatin@ Coalition in Los Angeles. Salcedo who was born in Mexico, advocates for trans Latina immigrants and for those living with HIV and AIDS. In 2015 she organized a demonstration with more than a 100 trans activists to disrupt the opening session of the National LGBTQ Task Force’s annual conference to protest violence against transgender people. She’s also the co-founder of the Center for Violence Prevention & Transgender Wellness, a multi-service center for the trans community in LA. She previously worked for the Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for eight years as the health education and HIV prevention services coordinator.
Puerto Rican activist Joanna Cifredo has been a prominent advocate who has dedicated her time and efforts to uplifting the trans community as well as Puerto Ricans. She previously worked for Empoderate, a bilingual community center in DC for the gay and trans community and was all the brand ambassador to the DC Rape Crisis Center to Power a Culture of Consent. She’s the program director for Camp Albizu for kids in Puerto Rico, a camp she envisioned and campaigned for. She’s currently the co-host of the Trans Specific Partnership Podcast discussing the politics of gender and sexuality with Rebecca Kling.
Afro-Puerto Rican Leiomy Maldonado gained fame as the first openly trans woman to appear on MTV’s America’s Best Dance Crew in 2009 as part of the openly gay dance crew Vogue Evolution. Her signature hair flip has become known as the “The Leiomy Lolly” and she’s worked with Willow Smith, FKA Twigs, and even danced for a special showcase at the world-renowned Museum of Modern Art in NYC. She also starred in Nike’s #BeTrue ad, becoming the second trans athlete featured in a Nike video ad. She currently works as the choreographer for ballroom dance scenes on the TV series Pose.
Activist and former sex worker Mariah Lopez served as the executive director for the Strategic Trans Alliance for Radical Reform (STARR). The native New Yorker was mentored by Stonewall and trans rights pioneer Sylvia Rivera, who helped her become an advocate for gender rights. At the age of 17, she was elected to the New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy. In 2005 she was arrested for prostitution and ordered to undergo a genital check and when she refused she was sent to a men’s prison where she endured abuse and harassment. Since then she’s worked to have safe facilities in prison and helped open the very first transgender housing unit for Rikers Island, the largest prison in America, in 2014.
Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano
Ecuadorian activist Diane Marie Rodríguez Zambrano became the first openly trans candidate to run for office in her home country. She’s currently the transgender chair of “Silueta X Association,” a non-profit aiding trans youth and adults and representative of “Observatory LGBTI of Ecuador.” In May 2013 she launched a safe center that specializes in LGBTQ care becoming the first of its kind in the country. In 2009, she released the first transgender comic books character named “Victor Victoria.” She also launched “Mi Género Mi Cédula” with trans organizations including Project Transgender to promote gender identity changes in ID cards.
Puerto Rican long-time activist and prominent trans Latina Victoria Cruz has a long history with the movement. She participated in the first gay Pride March in 1970 and knew trans pioneers Martha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. She was also at the Stonewall Inn at the time of the riots. While working for a nursing home she was assaulted by four female co-workers and through the help of the Anti-Violence Project she spoke up and two of the women were convicted. She then began working for the Anti-Violence Project, working her way up to becoming the group’s senior domestic-violence counselor and advocate. She was honored in 2012 by then, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, for her service and can be seen in the documentary The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson.
Felicia Elizondo is an HIV positive activist who has been advocating for LGBT rights since the 1960s when she participated in Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, a historic LGBT uprising that preceded Stonewall. The former sex worker was diagnosed in 1987 and since then she’s been involved in HIV/AIDS activism in addition to her activism for trans women of color. She was named the Lifetime Achievement Grand Marshal of the 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade. Known as a trailblazer, AIDS survivor, and a Vietnam War veteran (before her transition), she wrote a letter to the LGBT community saying, “Please don’t forget all who came before you. You have to know where you have been to know where you are going.”
Raffi Freedman-Gurspan is the first openly trans person to work as a White House staffer. Born in Intibucá, Honduras in 1987, she was adopted by an American Jewish couple and raised in Massachusetts, she identifies as indigenous Central American and Jewish. She initially came out as gay when she was 12 and became involved in the movement from that point on. She was also the first openly transgender legislative staffer to work in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. Currently, she serves as director of external relations at the National Center for Transgender Equality in Washington, DC. “Equal treatment and justice for those that are vulnerable in society was always just at the forefront of my childhood,” she told MetroWeekly.