Sylvia's Story


Week Two of Women's History Month Is Here!

Here at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, we'll focus each week during March on women from the communities that EBSC serves. For Week Two, EBSC is proud to spotlight the transgender immigrant community of Latin America.

We'd like to share one of their stories with you today, from a client named Sylvia:

My name is Sylvia and I was born in El Salvador. I'm a transgender woman. All of my life, I was rejected and harassed because of my gender identity. I always felt that I was a girl and not a boy. I always wanted to look and act like a woman. I always played with my mother’s and my sister’s clothing. Even when I was around three or four years old, I put on my mother’s shoes and clothes in secret. I liked feeling like a girl and I felt bad that I was a boy. I didn't look like how I felt inside, and I was very depressed by this fact.

My father was a difficult man, very traditional. He drank a lot and when he drank he was violent. He beat my mother and me all the time. He called me names. When my hair got too long for him, he'd give me buzz cuts against my will. He didn't allow me to eat at the dinner table with the rest of my family. I went to an all-boy's school and my classmates beat me there as well. The teachers and administrators looked the other way.

At 16, I left my home for my own safety and lived on the streets. I was homeless. There, in that environment, I met my first love. He got me off the streets. I started to live full time as a woman. My boyfriend was unfortunately murdered and I had to leave the neighborhood for my own safety. By that time, I was participating in a human rights group, which made it unsafe for me, because many people wanted me to be silent. Myself and other openly transgender people were terrorized by the police, as well as by many gang members. We were often forced at gunpoint to do things against our will. After formally pressing charges against a gang leader, I left El Salvador for my own safety. I escaped to Guatemala. I joined a group in Guatemala that also fought for the rights of transgender people.

However, in Guatemala, the gang members from El Salvador tracked me down. I begged for my life and was able to buy some time from the gang members. I escaped from Guatemala overnight and traveled by bus to Mexico. I tried to find work in Mexico City. But I was turned down over and over again because I was a transgender woman. I realized that there was a lot of discrimination in Mexico as well. My only option was to continue my journey forward into the United States.

In 2012, I crossed the border into the United States. I'd heard through a friend about an office in Berkeley that helped women like myself. I arrived to East Bay Sanctuary's offices. There, the staff of the LGBTQ Affirmative Asylum Program helped me. They treated me with respect and dignity and were always there for me. My request for Affirmative Asylum was approved and I'm now in the process of becoming a U.S. permanent resident.

I will always continue to fight for the rights of transgender people, especially for women like myself. I feel that sharing part of my story now is my way of walking my true life path. I can now show show the world that I have the right to be me. 

EBSC stands with Sylvia and all of the transgender immigrants who come through EBSC's door, seeking legal services. 

Please consider a donation today to show your support for the LGBTQ Affirmative Asylum Program at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. Thank you! 


Note: Sylvia's real name isn't being used to protect her privacy. 

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